Young US Field Phenoms: High Schooler Vashti Cunningham Jumps a World Leader in the High Jump, Sandi Morris Joines the 16-Foot Club and Ashley Spencer is on Her Way Back

March 12, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. —  There were fireworks in the women’s field events Saturday at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships as high school senior Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of football great Randall Cunningham, jumped a world-leading 1.99m and showed she will be a force on the world scene this yeare while pole vaulter Sandi Morris became the third person over 16’0″ in the indoor pole vault, winning an exciting competition over world record holder Jenn Suhr and Demi Payne.

Women’s High Jump: Cunningham Gets the Win and the World Leader

Cunningham had the highest mark in the field coming in, but how would the 18-year-old react under the pressure of competing at her first senior U.S. Championships? Flawlessly.

Cunningham showed the poise her dad used to show on the football field, going perfectly through the competition and equalling her PR of 1.96 to win the competition with no misses. Then she began her quest to raise her PR. She cleared a world-leading 1.99 on her second attempt and then attempted to clear 2.00m for the first time, taking one attempt at 2.01 and missing before calling it a day.

In her short career, Cunningham has shown a knack of jumping her best when it matters most. Her previous PR of 1.96 was for the Pan Am junior gold last year. She’ll enter Worlds next week as a serious gold medal threat.

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Interview with her below. She said her dad even got excited tonight, “He was very happy for me. He and I never really show our happiness or our emotions, but we both did a little bit today.”

During her interview, Cunningham was remarkably poised and calm for an athlete of her age. Next week’s World Championships will be her biggest stage yet, but she appears ready to handle it.

Women’s High Jump

Athlete Affiliation Best Jump Flight (Pl)
1 Vasthi Cunningham Unattached 1.99m (6-6¼ ) 1 (1)
2 Elizabeth Patterson Unattached 1.93m (6-4 ) 1 (2)
3 Chaunte Lowe Nike 1.93m (6-4 ) 1 (3)
4 Zibby Boyer Unattached 1.90m (6-2¾ ) 1 (4)
5 Rachel McCoy Unattached 1.85m (6-¾ ) 1 (5)
5 Susan Jackson Unattached 1.85m (6-¾ ) 1 (5)
7 Maya Pressley Unattached 1.80m (5-10¾ ) 1 (7)
8 Tynita Butts Unattached 1.80m (5-10¾ ) 1 (8)
9 Anntoinette Dudley Unattached 1.75m (5-8¾ ) 1 (9)
10 Nia Ali Nike 1.75m (5-8¾ ) 1 (10)
11 Mariah Toussaint adidas Garden St 1.75m (5-8¾ ) 1 (11)
Elizabeth Evans Unattached NH 1

Women’s Pole Vault: Sandi Morris Joins the 16′ Club, Demi Payne Doesn’t Make the Team Despite Vaulting a Top 10 All-Time Mark

Sandi Morris was only the third best pole vaulter in the US this winter coming into the US champs. Jenn Suhr had set the world record (5.03) and Demi Payne had joined the 16’0″ club vaulting 4.90 (16′ 3/4″). Morris’ best was 4.80.

Morris looked like the third best vaulter in the US early on tonight. It took her 3 attempts to clear 15’7″ (4.75). Then Payne and Suhr both cleared 4.85 on their first attempts and Morris missed, so Morris passed to 4.90 and missed on her first attempt which left her with one attempt to clear 16′ for the first time and to stay in the competition.

Morris did it and then cleared 4.95 on her first attempt to win the competition. That left her full of confidence and talking about possibly breaking the world record. She said afterwards, “Sixteen feet has always been this number that I’ve been chasing since I first started pole vaulting. Once I made 4.90 today the pressure was just lifted off of my chest.”

4.95 makes Morris the third highest vaulter ever indoors (only Yelena Isinbayeva and Suhr have gone higher and only Isinbayeva has gone higher outdoors). Demi Payne’s 4.85 today is a mark only 5 other women have ever been over yet it wasn’t good enough to get her on Team USA for Worlds next week.

As for next week, it may take something special to win, “I’m gonna take some shots at the world record, that’d be freaking awesome,” said Morris.

Athlete Affiliation Best Jump Flight (Pl)
1 Sandi Morris Nike 4.95m (16-2¾ ) 1 (1)
2 Jenn Suhr adidas 4.90m (16-¾ ) 1 (2)
3 Demi Payne Unattached 4.85m (15-11 ) 1 (3)
4 Kristen Hixson Unattached 4.65m (15-3 ) 1 (4)
5 Mary Saxer Nike / N Y A C 4.65m (15-3 ) 1 (5)
6 Leslie Brost Twin Cities T C 4.50m (14-9 ) 1 (6)
6 Katie Nageotte Unattached 4.50m (14-9 ) 1 (6)
8 Kat Majester Unattached 4.30m (14-1¼ ) 1 (8)
9 Sophie Gutermuth Indiana 4.30m (14-1¼ ) 1 (9)
9 Melissa Gergel Tim Mack P V 4.30m (14-1¼ ) 1 (9)
9 Kayla Caldwell Unattached 4.30m (14-1¼ ) 1 (9)
9 Janice Keppler Unattached 4.30m (14-1¼ ) 1 (9)
13 April Bennett ASICS 4.30m (14-1¼ ) 1 (13)
Kortney Ross San Diego El NH 1
Jenny Wartinbee Unattached NH 1
Kristen Brown Unattached NH 1

Women’s 400m: Ashley Spencer Is Back and Makes World Team

Ashley Spencer in 2012 was atop the junior ranks like Vashti Cunningham. Spencer bypassed a shot at the 2012 Olympics to be world junior champion at 400m. She then improved in 2013 but has regressed since then with some injury problems in 2013 and 2014.

Spencer was only second in her heat Friday night in 52.68, but she turned that around on Saturday nearly equaling her indoor pr, running 51.29 (pr 51.27 from 2013). Quanera Hayes got the win and Spencer will be joining her on the world team.

Spencer afterwards said the struggles in 2014 and 2015 make her never take anything for granted and she thinks they will help her long term.

Athlete Affiliation Time Sec (pl)
1 Quanera Hayes Nike 51.09 2 (1)
2 Ashley Spencer Nike 51.29 2 (2)
3 Natasha Hastings Under Arm/NYAC 51.34 2 (3)
4 Phyllis Francis Nike 52.08 2 (4)
5 Kendall Baisden adidas 52.90 1 (1)
6 Kendra Chambers Unattached 52.91 1 (2)
7 Shapri Romero Unattached 53.27 1 (3)
8 Jasmine Chaney Unattached 53.67 1 (4)

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