Demons’ Flagler finally clears hurdles to Southland crown

After what he did Saturday, and with all the motivation he had, winning Sunday’s 110 meter hurdles title at the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships was basically a foregone conclusion for Northwestern State senior Terrance Flagler.

He rolled over the 10 hurdles in 14.03, comfortably outpacing the runner-up’s 14.20, as he claimed gold for the first time in four Southland meets. This was especially sweet, coming at home at the Walter P. Ledet Track Complex.

Despite past disappointments, Flagler had absolutely no doubt as he crouched in the starting blocks that victory was 110 yards away.

He foreshadowed it with a sensational qualifying time, 13.87, a day earlier. Flagler shifted into another gear when he almost broke the 26-year-old school record of 13.86 in 1993 by Joe Rhyans. With a mark that ranked 24th nationally, he was nearly a quarter-second faster than any of the other seven finalists, but more importantly, Flagler was locked in.

“When I dropped the 13.8 in prelims, that’s when I knew, ‘oh, yeah. It’s about that time.’ I went into this (Sunday) race completely confident, wasn’t nervous about anything,” he said. “I just went out and kept in my race as well as I could.”

Saturday’s performance was his second personal record in three weeks. Flagler ran under 14 seconds for the first time April 20 at LSU (13.98).

There’s been a sense of urgency for him approaching the conference meet. He wanted the championship to honor the memory of his training partner the last two seasons, Lady Demons’ great Daeshon Gordon, who swept the women’s 100 and 400 hurdles at the 2018 Southland Outdoors, then earned honorable mention All-America honors in the 100 hurdles and the 4×100 relay. She died suddenly last October.

NSU’s team adopted the mantra “Do It for Dae” for the 2019 season. Flagler has honored her all year long by wearing a headband emblazoned in the black, green and gold colors of the Jamaican flag, Gordon’s home country.

“It’s real special seeing that we hurdled together,” he said. “She basically motivated me all (last) season while I battled injuries. So to do this today, it’s a big accomplishment.”

Although he ran with a full heart, Flagler also acknowledged advice from associate head coach Adam Pennington and attention to detail has keyed his recent surge and this weekend’s breakthroughs.

“The heart mattered a lot, but also, I had to focus on my trail leg and pulling it through quicker,” he said. “That cleaned things up.”

After securing his long-anticipated championship, which soothed the sting of a pair of silver medals indoors the last two seasons and a frustrating seventh-place finish outdoors at last year’s conference meet, Flagler was beaming.

“I’m still in disbelief right now. To win, and to have a top 25 ranking, that’s what I’ve been pushing for,” he said.

Now the target shifts. He was already heading to the NCAA East Preliminary Round, standing 19th regionally before the weekend. His stock has risen with his Southland showcase. In three weeks, May 23-25, Flagler and a big NSU travel party will line up near his home in Atlanta, just a few hours south in Jacksonville, Fla., trying to finish in the East’s top 12 to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 5-8 in Austin, Texas.

The jaunt to Jacksonville may be a lengthy one for the Demons and Lady Demons, but not for Flagler’s family.

“Not at all,” he said, smiling. “All my cousins, aunties, mom and all of them are gonna be there. I’ll have support. We’ll have support. And then, on to nationals.”