After Georgia’s name was called as the NCAA Track and Field champions, head coach Petros Kyprianou gathered his group of seven ladies into a huddle.
“You are a band of bad-asses,” he said before a celebration filled with dance moves, screaming and shouting began.
The Georgia women's track and field program won the first team national title in program history on Saturday, with a 12-point win over second-place Arkansas in a 54-team championship at Texas A&M University. The men’s team finished in third place, its best finish in program history.
This marked the first national championship for Georgia since the women's swimming and diving team brought home an NCAA title in 2016.
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For nationals, a perfect score is a 63. Georgia almost did so with a 61 and Kyprianou said his team did everything right.
The Bulldogs have won multiple individual awards in recent years, most notably senior Keturah Orji, who is only the second collegiate athlete to ever collect three triple jump titles.
Her third came on Saturday (setting a NCAA record at 14.27 meters) as Kate Hall also joined in with a national title in the long jump (6.73). In the long jump, Georgia had each of its competitors finish in the top three as Orji and Tara Davis finished just behind Hall.
"You've got the ace and the king right there, if you're playing cards," Kyprianou said. "It's because of their mentality, the way they act and the way they lead."
But the collaborative efforts gave Georgia a sweeter feeling that it had yet to experience. A year ago, the Bulldogs had to watch Oregon pull off a comeback push on the final event to beat Georgia by 1.8 points. From that moment, Georgia had an intensified level of determination and it paid off.
It watched the final event with the 12-point lead, and with the highest-possible score on an event being 10, the chances of more heartbreak were gone.
"It's a totally different feeling, because there's a since of pride," said Mady Fagan, who won the national title for high jump in the 2017 outdoor competition, but was limited in the indoor competition due to a knee injury. "When you win it as a team, there's a sense of community and you all do it together. It's really special and I'm glad to be a part of this."
Georgia’s boost in posting scores in this championship run was the ability to have success on track events. In years past, the Bulldogs have only been able to score on field events. Lynna Irby, a true freshman, had 12 points (third place in 200m and 400m), Jessica Drop recorded five points (fourth place in 5,000m) and Hall added three points on track (sixth place in 60m).
"My nerves were probably on a 10 (before running), but I'm just happy to be a part of history," Irby said.
Kyprianou praised his senior class for its accomplishments, but the third-year head coach has made remarkable strides to get Georgia’s women back as an upper-echelon program. This is his 10th total year with the program, with his head-coaching stint beginning in 2015.
In his first three years at the helm, Kyprianou has finished in the top three each season and continues to draw in the top recruits from across the world – the current roster features athletes from Australia, Germany, Greece and Norway.
Kyprianou regards Orji as “the greatest of all time at Georgia,” and had a special sit-down with the 2016 Olympian to thank her for all of the efforts she brought to the program. Orji, after graduating in May, will go to graduate school and train for the 2020 Summer Olympics with Kyprianou in the process.
“I’m really thankful for everything he’s done,” Orji said. “He’s developed me so well and I’ve gone so much farther than I ever thought I would as a collegiate athlete. I wouldn’t have expected to accomplish everything I have.”
Georgia is hopeful that its recent string of success can take it to the next level, both on the men’s and women’s side. Kyprianou heard on numerous occasions that his track team shouldn’t be able to win a national title, because it’s not a source of major revenue like football.
The athletes themselves feel underappreciated, too, but in a sense of knowing not too much can be done about it. Orji and Kendall Williams were both Olympians, but the senior didn’t see many people show up to their track meets. She’s hopeful that will change someday, but it doesn’t deter the drive to be successful.
Kyprianou escorted his team into Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Monday with the championship trophy in hand. It was being passed around and held gleefully to show that those opinions of doubt have been defied.
"The sleeping giant has awoken," Kyprianou said. "I would love to have the ability to host an indoor NCAA title, but you have to have the infrastructure first. But hosting after you won puts you in a really good spot to attract the top athletes to come here. Then, you can continue to win more."
After bringing home the trophy, the next step for Georgia is building its own indoor track facility. The team makes use of the newly-built indoor practice facility, built mainly for the football program, and Kyprianou applauds athletic director Greg McGarity for that growth, and said he’s a “step ahead of us all.”
Kyprianou understands the difficulties of building it with limited space on campus, and will continue to discuss the matter with the athletic department. His dream is to host an NCAA Championship of his own, and hopes he’s around when that’s completed.
Until then, there’s one thing that is cemented.
“We are the best team on campus, and no one can say anything against that,” said sophomore pentathlon competitor Louisa Grauvougel. “We're the only team that has won a national title, and it makes us all very proud."