BY OBREY BROWN
For the Record Gazette
College track & field: Cracked 11 seconds in the 100 … Redlands’ relays seem set for a crack at nationals … Known more as high jumper at Beaumont.
It was at the University of La Verne back on March 30 in a 3-way multi-dual when junior Maliq Champion, a combination high jumper and sprinter for Redlands, told his coaches he might run fast in that day’s 200-meter.
“I thought I’d run fast that day,” said Champion, “I was surprised, though, that it turned out to be …” a 21.10.
It wasn’t a Redlands school record — a 21.08 mark that still belongs to his quick-striking teammate Luke Bohlinger in 2018 — but Champion’s 2019 number shot him to the top of this year’s NCAA Division III season-best chart. It has since fallen to No. 3 across the U.S., but by mere fractions.
Suddenly, the onetime Beaumont High high jump champion became a contender for a national sprint title.
Mike Schmidt, who is Redlands’ 12th-year coach, said, “We teach people how to sprint here … how to get fast.”
There’s some evidence of that. Redlands’ three-time NCAA All-American Luke Bohlinger is faster than Champion in both the 100 and 200. There are others in Redlands’ sprint corps.
“I like practices to be competitive,” said Champion, chuckling, “which means some nicks and bruises along the way. I like it back and forth every time.”
Practices, said Schmidt, “are quality over quantity. Maliq might run one 50 (meter) at practice.”
Said Champion: “So I can work on my start.”
“Then,” said Schmidt, “he might go work on six high jumps.”
Said Champion: “So I can remember my curve (on the approach).”
Then there’s that 4 x 100 relay. Four guys. One baton. Top speed required. No wasted movement. “Execution on all the handoffs,” said Champion.
A wide receiver on the Bulldogs’ football squad in both 2016 and 2017, Champion stepped away from that sport to focus on track.
That 40.87, third-place finish at last year’s NCAA championship might have had something to do with it, he said.
“I’ve got to be honest,” said Champion, who transferred from Hemet West Valley High to Beaumont High during his prep days. “It was a chore to show up at football every day.
“I had a desire to show up at track.”
Schmidt is in full belief mode that Redlands’ 4 x 100 relay can turn it on enough to win this year’s national championship.
“We really do have a shot,” said Schmidt.
That relay has been pieced together with speed — namely Champion and Bohlinger, not to mention long jumper A.J. Wheeler and Dominack Murray, among others -- that seems ready to sizzle into the post-season meets.
The SCIAC Championships are set for April 27-28 at Claremont-Mudd College. The NCAAs are set for May 23-25 at Mount (OH) Union College.
Somehow, the competition of NCAA championship coaxed last year’s 40.87 clocking after having finished in ranges like 41.25, 41.87, 41.20 and 41.47 in prior meets last spring.
Champion isn’t quite yet 21 — he’ll turn that age in July — but he’s scheduled to graduate in engineering next spring.
He cracked 11 seconds in the 100 this year -- and 10.87 and 10.83 — after hitting a season-best 11.29 in 2018.
Again, practices can be worthwhile.
“I like our practices to be competitive,” he said.
Imagine Bohlinger, Wheeler, Champion, Murray and Cooper Malenstein, all on the track at one time. It can be a sort of mini-NCAA qualifier.
Kudos to Schmidt, whose arrival in 2007 lent way to a series of recruiting successes that has landed athletes in everything from distances to shot put or from sprints to the jumps — and more.
“Everything we do,” said Schmidt, “is meticulously planned. We’re conservative. We don’t try to do too much.”
Champion, chuckling, says the likes of Bohlinger, Malenstein, Murray, Wheeler and himself, among others, take turns beating each other in those practice sprints.
Then there’s class. Imagine being a two-sport athlete that must balance the academic workload into the mix.
“I was a two-sport athlete,” said Schmidt, who has shot Redlands to becoming one of the nation’s top-achieving track & field programs — men’s and women’s.
“The hardest part of all this,” said Champion, “is the time schedule … figuring out when I can do school work.”
Champion is a good 5 ¾-inches off Joel Mitre’s 7-foot, ¼-inch school high jump record, but there’s more of a focus on winning this year’s SCIAC championship. Champion, whose career best is 6-6 ¾, will probably drop that event once NCAAs commence.
At Beaumont, his top achievement might have been placing third in the 2016 CIF Division 1 high jump, clearing 6-4, as a Cougar senior. It was early in his development.
“Beaumont,” said Schmidt, “has a pretty good track program. I saw him compete in high school. I knew he was a raw athlete. I liked him right away.”
It may not occur to outsiders that Schmidt’s program doesn’t recruit superstars out of high school. He gets them at Redlands, then goes to work.During his prep days, Cougar coaches had Champion in the 4 x 400, some open 400s, plus 200-meter events -- and the high jump. He’s come a long way since those 2016 prep days.
Winning the NCAA 200?
“That,” said Champion, “is the goal.”