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Albany’s Land, Lewis take aim at NCAA national track titles today in Oregon

Former Monroe track star and 10-time state champ Mimi Land, left, will compete for a national title today for Clemson in the long jump at the NCAA Division I Track & Field National Championship in Eugene, Ore., while her Tigers teammate and fellow former Southwest Georgia star, Reggie Lewis from Westover, also qualified for nationals and will go for titles in the 100-meter dash and the 4x100 relay. (Photos courtesy of Clemson University/Special to The Herald)

Former Monroe track star and 10-time state champ Mimi Land, left, will compete for a national title today for Clemson in the long jump at the NCAA Division I Track & Field National Championship in Eugene, Ore., while her Tigers teammate and fellow former Southwest Georgia star, Reggie Lewis from Westover, also qualified for nationals and will go for titles in the 100-meter dash and the 4x100 relay. (Photos courtesy of Clemson University/Special to The Herald)

EUGENE, Ore. — Not since the days of Angelo Taylor has Albany been able to lay claim to an NCAA track & field champion.

Mimieux Land and Reggie Lewis hope to change that today.

Clemson’s Land, a former Monroe star and 10-time state champion during her record-setting run with the Lady Tornadoes, and teammate Lewis, a former Westover star who won the 2011 Class AAA state title in the 100-meter dash, will set their sights on landing atop the podium at the 2013 NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships, which begin today in Eugene, Ore.

Land, the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year from the indoor season in fall, will compete in the long jump after qualifying 11th at the NCAA East Regional late last month, while Lewis, a sophomore who transferred to Clemson before the season from Kennesaw State, will be competing in two events: the 100-meter dash and the 4x100-meter relay.

“I’m so excited right now,” Land told The Herald by telephone from her hotel room Tuesday afternoon. “Just making it this far is a blessing, but I’m not satisfied.”

Neither is Lewis, who may actually have a better chance at bringing home some hardware this week than Land based on his qualifying time. He ran a personal-best 10.21 in the East Regional and finished fifth, just missing the Top 3 by a few hundredths of a second.

“I’m excited to be here and I think I can do well because I’m flying a little under the radar,” Lewis said Tuesday from Eugene, where he’ll open prelims for the 4x100 today at 7:15 p.m., followed by prelims in the 100M dash at 8:45 p.m. “Coming over from Kennesaw, where I didn’t qualify for nationals last year, I don’t think a lot of people know about me. But since I’ve gotten to Clemson, I’ve gotten better, faster and stronger and I think I could surprise some people here.”

Lewis, who stands 5-foot-11, finished fourth at the ACC Championships in the 100 and posted the team’s fastest 200-meter time this year. Before he came to Clemson, he won the Atlantic Sun Championship in the long jump, but he’s been primarily focused on sprinting events since joining the Tigers.

Lewis said transferring just up the road from Kennesaw to Clemson was the “best thing I could’ve done for my track career.”

“It’s a little bit of mixed feelings (making it to nationals this year) because Kennesaw was the school that signed me, but I’ve really grown and improved so much since I’ve been at Clemson,” he said. “But coming here was the best possible thing for me, both on the track and educationally. I can’t wait to compete (today).”

Land, a three-time Herald Player of the Year who chose Clemson over national powerhouse Florida, feels the same way. She said her first year in South Carolina has been even better than expected.

“It’s been crazy, fun, exciting — all of the above. I know one thing: I learned a whole lot more about (my events) than I thought I would. As it turns out, I’ve been doing a lot of things wrong, and being here has helped correct those bad habits,” said Land, who won state titles at Monroe in the long jump, triple jump and high jump. “Coach (Octavia) Jones told me before I left that I would be learning a lot of new techniques and I needed to be open to them.”

The results prove she has been.

Land, who begins prelims today at 7:15 p.m., has set personal records in all three events — leaping 5’11 in the high jump, 42 feet in the triple and 20 1/2 in the long jump — and she already ranks second in Clemson track & field history in the indoor high jump, third in the outdoor high jump and fifth in the outdoor long jump.

Did we mention she’s just a freshman?

But while Land has high hopes for this week, she’s also a realist in that she knows her time to shine may come later in her career.

“I feel like if I jump to the best of my abilities, have good technique and speed, I can be right there (in the Top 3),” she said. “I may not have qualified all that well, but I’m here. I made it. That’s what matters. (Today), everyone starts from scratch.”

So if not this year, does Land see a national title in her future?

“Yes,” she said with conviction. “I believe if you want it and strive for it, you’ll get it.”


Editor’s note: Live results for the NCAA track & field championships @ flashresults.com