SAGU men’s track competes at NAIA nationals

Henderson becomes first All-American in Lions program’s history

SAGU Athletics
Southwestern Assemblies of God University's Nicholas Henderson, right, poses with SAGU head track and field coach Jason Covarrubias. Henderson was named an NAIA All-American after finishing sixth in the 400-meter hurdles at the NAIA national meet in Gulf Shores, Ala.

GULF SHORES, Ala. — Several members of the Southwestern Assemblies of God University men's track team traveled to compete in the 2021 NAIA Outdoor Track National Championship. The three-day-meet format included two days of prelims and the last day reserved for finals.

For the first time in program history, the Lions sent track qualifiers in the 4x100 relay, 100m dash, 400m hurdles, and for the fifth consecutive year, the marathon. 

"I have dreamed about this moment for the past 8 years, the moment that we will have a versatile group of athletes competing in a range of events on the track and of course, our bread and butter — the marathon!” said SAGU head track coach Jason Covarrubias.  “This week, that dream came true having a 4x100, an open 100, 400 hurdles, and a marathoner all competing here at the beach. That has been our goal all season, 'to get to the beach,' but not just get here but to have our presence felt, and we did that!”

The 4x100 relay were the first to hit the track in Gulf Shores. The all-freshman team of Dylan Alford, Nicholas Henderson, Josh Allen and Charles Pulliam III went into the heated race seeded 11th overall with the school record setting time of 41.40. As anticipated, many teams outperformed their qualifying position to reach the 4x100 final and the right to be called an NAIA All-American (top 8 in each event). The Lions were one of those teams to outperform, running a 41.24 which help them finished the season ranked as No. 10 in the NAIA, just missing finals by .11 of a second.

Henderson closed out Day 1 for the Lions in the 400m Hurdles. Henderson, a Waxahachie native, came into the 27-member field ranked 16th. Nick placed second in the third heat with the school record setting time of 52.83, and finished with the 7th fastest time overall. His performance secured him a spot in the Day 3 finals, and potentially earn the program's first NAIA Men's Outdoor Track All-American award.

Day 2 was a lighter day on the track for the Lions, as Henderson competed in the 100m prelims. The 100m had a field of 37 competitors and Henderson came in ranked 29th overall. Henderson raced in what turned out to be the fastest heat of the event that advanced three to the Friday final, and finished 5th with the time of 10.58.  His school record setting performance placed him 18th in the nation.

The final day of competition (Day 3) was action-packed with current Graduate Assistant Coach, Robert Herrera, running the marathon and Henderson in the 400m hurdles final. Herrera began the day early for the Lions at 6 a.m., and the Lyford native competed in his third marathon coming in ranked 24th overall. However, this year's field was dwarfed by over 50% from years past as the NAIA ramped up marathon training requirements, in an attempt to curtail the growing health and safety concerns. Nevertheless, Herrera surpassed his career best placement of 18th, with a 16th place finish and the time of 3 hours and 16 minutes. 

Henderson rounded out the Lions 2021 outdoor track season with the 400m hurdles. He went into the 8-man heat ranked 7th running out of lane 8, and competed well. Henderson, in just his fourth career attempt at the 400 hurdles, placed in 6th place in all of the NAIA with the time of 52.84, and became the first Men's NAIA All-American in program history. His 6th place finish earned the Lions 3 points and placed SAGU 69th out of 101 teams.

 “The 4x100 relay ran excellent and it was just unfortunate that didn't make finals,” Covarrubias said. “I truly believe, if they had, they would be a top-3 team in the nation! Robert, or should I say Coach Herrera, is animal and deserves all the credit in the world for being a 3-time national marathoner...not too many people can say that! And Nick, well Nick is an absolute competitor, and we knew if he could get into a good heat, he would qualify for finals! There is no doubt in my mind that he deserves to be the first NAIA All-American in program history! No one can ever take that away from him or any of the members of our national team, they will always be known as the first!”