Frosh Shamier Little primed for NCAAs

Courtesy of Errol Anderson

She might be young, but Texas A&M freshman Shamier Little sure is fast. She'll try to showcase that against her more experienced competitors in the 400-meter hurdles Friday at the NCAA track and field championships

EUGENE, Ore. -- There are some hints that Shamier Little is still young.

The braces, for starters, are a dead giveaway. There are few other athletes competing at the NCAA track and field championships this week in Eugene, Oregon, who are sporting braces. And then there's the fact that she races in glasses instead of wearing contacts, which many would consider a deterrent in any race. But if you ask Little, the reasoning is simple:

"I don't like to touch my eyes," she said.

At the Penn Relays earlier this season, she put her mark for the first handoff in the 4x200-meter relay at the wrong place, and teammate Kamaria Brown, a junior, is always playing the role of big sister, reminding her of things off the track.

"Oh my gosh, she's always losing things," Brown said. "We always have to tell her: remember this, remember that."

But when Little steps on the track, she's anything but adolescent. On Friday, Little will compete in the 400-meter hurdle finals, a race that is often considered the most grueling in all of track and field. She's the only freshman in the finals on Thursday and the only freshman to have qualified for the finals since 2009.

"She just has a great aptitude for the race," Texas A&M sprints and hurdles coach Vince Anderson said. "We haven't done anything to interfere with her instinct[s] in race, which are amazingly keen."

Little started out as a 100-meter hurdler in middle school. The summer after her sophomore year of high school, her mother decided to enter Little into a 400-meter hurdle race, even though she'd never run it.

"I hated it the first time I did it," Little said. "It was sloppy. I was flailing over the hurdles. I was barely liking the 400[-meter dash], so why would [I] want to do that?"

But it got better. Quickly.

The third time she raced it, she won the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics.

The fifth time she raced it, she won the AAU Junior Olympics and set a new national record in the Intermediate Girls division (57.83).

With just five races -- but two national titles -- under her belt, she began to fall in love with the 400-meter hurdles.

But then came another hiccup -- in Illinois high school track, there is no 400-meter hurdle race, just the 300. For most, especially someone like Little -- who had hated the distance before -- 300 meters would seem like a better alternative. But Little quickly learned that what made her so good at the 400-meter hurdles was her ability to find that last gear and kick during the last stretch.

And that has continued to the next level as well. Anderson said the coaches have worked to improve her speed out of the blocks and worked on her foot speed a little bit, but the rest is just an incredibly talented freshman.

The next step in her process comes Thursday night, when she looks to build on her already impressive résumé.

Her first two days at Hayward Field went remarkably well, but this will be her first event in the finals. She's seeded second in the event (55.58) and will race against three seniors, two juniors and two sophomores.

But Anderson isn't worried about his youngest competitor being jarred by the bright lights and big stage.

"She had righteously prepared and we're in a very difficult conference [the SEC], which she handled beautifully," Anderson said. "The rigors of our conference meet is a perfect crucible for the demands of this meet. She handled that so well that I thought she'd respond well here, and she has."

She might be the youngest in the field of eight, but she's not running like it.

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