By ELLIOTT DENMAN
When Talitha Diggs crossed the finish line in 50.98 seconds, last Saturday (March 12) to claim the women’s 400-meter title at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, at the CrossPlex athletic facility in Birmingham, one of the many world-class indoor track venues now emerging around the nation, reverberations were heard far beyond the Alabama borders.
They resounded in at least five other states:
* In Pennsylvania, where she’d gone to high school (and was a five-time state champion at Saucon Valley High.)
* In New Jersey, where her Mom, Joetta Clark Diggs, had risen to fame (at
Columbia High School of Maplewood), as a four-time USA 800-meter Olympian, 12-time USA National champion, multiple major-meet record-breaker and, capping it all, as electee to both the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, and her home state’s all-endeavors Hall of Fame.
* In Indiana, where at NCAA headquarters, they were scanning the archives to determine where the Diggs’ feat, added to her Mom’s exploits (as a nine-time national-collegiate gold
medalist at Tennessee), fit into all of NCAA history.
* In the Sunshine State, where this sophomore sensation was a key ingredient in the University of Florida's romp to the NCAA women's indoor team title.
* And, of course/of course, in Oregon, site of this June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the official qualifying meet for July’s historic World Championships, the global title meet coming to America (Eugene’s Hayward Field, to be precise) for the first time.
Best guess is that in not much more than 50.98 seconds and her Birmingham win, the sport’s stats-keepers were penciling-in Talitha Diggs as a red-hot candidate for Team USA 2022, not just in the individual 400 meters but in two of the 4x400 relay events (all-women and mixed men and women) now on the Worlds slate of events.
And as a major candidate for the Paris Olympic Games of 2024, too.
“Yes, it was exciting to be there and see it all,” said Joetta Clark Diggs, just back from Birmingham. “Talitha ran a great race in the final. She made us proud.”
Diggs’ 50.98 was a personal best-ever indoor clocking and she won it decisively over Kennedy Simon of Texas, whose runner-up 51.46 was also a personal best.
Stacey Ann Williams of Texas – and Jamaica – (51.49), Alexis Holmes of Kentucky (51.50) and Jan Taijah Ford of Southern California (51.51) occupied the 3-4-5 slots.
The 50.98 was not an NCAA indoor meet record – that still belongs to, who Southern Cal’s Kendall Ellis, who ran 50.34 in 2018.
But it may have been something more important.
“It made us the first mother-and-daughter pair ever to win NCAA individual-event
track and field championships,” said her Mom, whose pride keeps reaching record-breaking levels now, too.
“I think she’s got a pretty good future in the sport.”
That’s obviously putting it oh-so-very-mildly.
Talitha Diggs made a brilliant collegiate debut as a Florida freshman in 2021, and her 50.74 outdoor best ranked 28th in the world and 10th in the USA. Oh, and she was an All-Academic honoree, too.
At the 2021 NCAA’s before heading into the USA Final Trials for the year-delayed Tokyo Olympic Games, she ran second to eventual Olympic 800 gold medalist Athing Mu of Texas A&M in the final. On now to the Trials, where she easily advanced out of the first round, but bowed out in the semifinals, and then saw Quanera Hayes take the final in 49.78.
For Diggs, just getting that far was a major achievement – she was just 18 years old.
As all track people have always known, only time will tell as to all these golden possibilities just ahead. Nothing is ever a given in this what-have-you-done-fror-me-lately sport.
Now, back to Birmingham.
Diggs’ 10 points and her teammates’ 58 more gave the Gators their second-ever NCAA indoor team title, with Texas (56), Kentucky (44), Arkansas (40) and LSU (29 ½) next in line, as 59 schools wound up in the scoring column with at least a single point.
As Gator publicists wrote it, “Florida held a slim lead heading into the second day of the meet, but blew the competition out of the water on Saturday evening, winning the team title with three events to spare (and thus able to scratch out of the concluding 4x400 relay.)
“The Gators home five individual titles (hurdler Grace Stark, long-triple jumper Jasmine Moore and pentathlete Anna Hall won the others) and that was just the second time that's happened in the history of the NCAA Women's Indoor Championships.
“The Gators wrapped up the team race (68 points) before the start of the 200 meters, allowing Florida the ability to watch the final three events before the trophy celebration.”
This NCAA Championship is the 11th in Gator program history and the second won by the women's team. This is also the 10th team title won under the leadership of head Coach Mike Holloway.
Bottom line: For Talitha Diggs and all the Florida Gators, even better things are just ahead.
She’ll be 20 on August 22nd.
There will be lots more to celebrate by then. Count on it.