It comes easy to redshirt junior Angie Annelus — noticing when a young runner is nervous, giving encouraging words. As a leader for the USC women’s track team, her support is constant for the underclassmen thrust into roles of responsibility on a young team.
“She cares about our well-being,” sophomore Twanisha Terry said. “She’ll just keep reiterating to us, ‘You got it, you can do it.’”
As the No. 2 Trojans begin their quest to defend their national title at the NCAA championships starting Wednesday in Austin, Texas, they will rely on Annelus, the Pac-12’s women’s track athlete of the year. She is part of the Trojans’ 400-meter relay team, which has the fastest time in the nation and set a school record of 42.44 seconds at the Pac-12 championships.
Annelus, who won the NCAA 200-meter title last year, ran a personal-best 22.36 on May 25 to automatically qualify for the NCAA championships. She also will compete in the 100-meter dash.
Annelus was an unlikely winner last year in the 200 after an injury kept her from running for months.
Chronic back pain plagued Annelus since she was a college freshman, and in the fall of 2017 it worsened. She needed an injection in her back, and she needed to stop running.
It was not until the start of indoor track season that she could start training again. In a meeting with coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, the two determined that Annelus simply would have to race herself back into shape.
While her competitors excelled early in the season, Annelus had to be satisfied with slower times, and the knowledge she was at least making progress.
“You want to be at the top and running extremely fast times, but you know you’re not ready yet,” Annelus said. “You’re building, and you’re gonna get there, and you just have to be patient.”
Annelus’ teammates and coaches encouraged her as she recovered. Her relationships with them were her motivation.
Relationships have fueled Annelus since she started running track at 12 years old. The team camaraderie drove her to become serious about the sport entering Grandview High in Missouri. She described one high school coach as “another father figure,” her teammates as close friends. She relished racing for them.
“They’ve always motivated me to do more, and push myself more,” Annelus said. “And I’ve always just wanted to do that, so I could always just make my family proud … and make other Haitians proud. So that’s always motivated me to be that beacon of light to a lot of people.”
Annelus set her sights on running for USC since she was a teenager, but she was not recruited by the Trojans in high school. She chose to attend UCLA instead. But as a freshman she struggled in track and in her personal life. She realized it was not the right fit.
“Things just weren’t meshing,” Annelus said, “and you just know sometimes when you’re not in a good place … you’ve got to get yourself out of that situation.”
Annelus redshirted the outdoor track season her second year at UCLA, as she decided to transfer. When Smith Gilbert called Annelus, the decision became simple.
She had waited for that call for years.
Once she arrived at USC, the transition was seamless.
“We all accepted her,” Terry said. “We all immediately clicked with one another.”
Said Annelus: “It was easy, because the team was so accepting … everyone welcomed me in, and I felt that bond very quickly.”
That support persisted throughout Annelus’ recovery from her back injury, right up to when she stepped up to the starting line in the 200-meter race at last year’s NCAA championships. Smith Gilbert told her: “If you run this curve, you will win the 200.”
So Annelus set her sights on exactly that.
“Wow, OK,” Annelus thought during the race. “We’re doing this.”
Once she crossed the finish line, Annelus turned to see the clock. Then she raised her hands and fell to the ground. She was a national champion.
“It was just like, wow, you really did it,” Annelus said. “After all of this that you’ve been through, you’ve done it.”
Those emotions paled in comparison to what she felt when the Trojans won the national title.
Screaming, Annelus grabbed her teammates and the fence bordering the track as she watched Kendall Ellis come back to win the 1,600-meter relay. Annelus didn’t realize until afterward she had broken several fingernails in the process.
The memory makes her determined to help USC repeat even more than her individual title.