NCAA Women’s Day 1 Recap: Comeback Stories (& Fast Times) in the 1500, a Great Day of Sprinting, & a Slugfest Is Brewing in the Team Competition

June 7, 2018

EUGENE, Ore. — It was the women’s turn to take the spotlight on day 2 of the 2018 NCAA Track & Field Championships, and Thursday’s results set up a fantastic team battle on the final day of the meet on Saturday.

The big winners today were the Stanford Cardinal, whose javelin throwers, Mackenzie Little and Jenna Gray, went 1-2 to put the Cardinal on top of the team standings after day 1 with 25 points. We also saw some fast times in the sprint prelims as LSU’s Aleia Hobbs ran  10.91 in the 100 and Georgia’s Lynna Irby clocked 50.11 in the 400.

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In the field, Irby’s teammate Keturah Orji won her seventh career NCAA title, joining Pittsburgh’s Trecia Smith as the only jumpers to win that many. The difference this time was that Orji’s win came in the long jump — her first six were all in the triple jump, which Orji will contest on Saturday as she goes for #8.

The one men’s event held today was the decathlon, and there was history there as well: Kentucky’s Tim Duckworth joined Ashton Eaton as the only men to win the NCAA heptathlon and decathlon titles in the same year (hat tip to ace stats man Jon Mulkeen).

We hit the six biggest storylines of the meet below, starting with the women’s 1500, where a fast first heat sets up a 1500 full of comeback stories (and very quick runners).

1) Heat 1 of the women’s 1500 was fast

Of the two 1500 heats today, heat 1 was the “Heat of Death.” The champions of the Big 10 (Danae Rivers), ACC (Rachel Pocratsky), Pac-12 (Jessica Hull), and SEC (Rhianwedd Price-Weimer) were all in heat 1, along with the only two NCAA champs in the field (2015 1500 champ Price-Weimer and 2018 mile champ Elle Purrier). As a result, Purrier wanted to make it fast to give herself a shot at the time qualifier (if necessary) and took the race out in a blazing 64.93 for the first 400 — 4:03 pace.

Heat 1 went out fast

Heat 1 went out fast

They would slow over the remaining 1100 meters, but the pace remained quick throughout, and the result was PRs for seven of the top 10 finishers. Check out the PRs:

1. Elle Purrier UNH 4:10.08 (previous pb: 4:10.90)
2. Jessica Hull Oregon 4:10.09 (previous pb: 4:10.46)
4. Janelle Noe Toledo 4:10.83 (previous pb: 4:16.34)
5. Grace Barnett Clemson 4:11.07 (previous pb: 4:13.62)
7. Taryn Rawlings Portland 4:12.08 (previous pb: 4:13.35)
8. Molly Sughroe Oklahoma State 4:12.26 (previous pb: 4:14.32)
10. Sarah Hardie Columbia 4:15.24 (previous pb: 4:18.07)

Of those results, Noe’s 5+ second pb stands out. And that time is even more impressive when you realize: a) her pb at the start of the year was 4:29 and; b) she has had to come back after suffering severe burns two years ago that left her with scars all over her body.

The burns present some lingering issues: lifting is difficult, as it can be hard for her to grip with her hands, and she still needs to protect her skin from the sun (difficult today, but that shouldn’t be a problem with rain in the forecast for Saturday’s final). Despite that, Noe began 2018 with a huge pb of 4:18 at the Raleigh Relays in March and has not looked back, lowering that to 4:16 at regionals and an incredible 4:10 today.

Despite the fast times, not all of the big names moved on in heat #1 as the biggest casualty was 2015 NCAA champ Rhianwedd Price-Weimer, who had the #2 time in the NCAA on the year coming in. Price-Weimer, who defeated Shelby Houlihan to win the 2015 title, was obviously disappointed to go out before the final as a senior, but told us she definitely wants to continue to run although finishing up her masters degree is the #1 priority in the short term.

She said she didn’t start training seriously until she got to college so she views this as the beginning, rather than the end of her career.

Price was one of three women seeded in the top 10 to not make the final. Also not advancing was #6 see Sinclaire Johnson of Oklahoma State, who had run an near 9-second PB at regionals to make it to Eugene (she went from 4:20 to 4:11).

The Top 10 1500 Seeds
Rachel POCRATSKY JR Virginia Tech 4:10.03
2 Rhianwedd PRICE-WEIMER SR Miss State 4:10.31
3 Jessica HULL SO Oregon 4:10.46
4 Danae RIVERS SO Penn State 4:10.82
5 Elinor PURRIER SR New Hampshire 4:10.90
6 Sinclaire JOHNSON SO Oklahoma State 4:11.57
7 Christina ARAGON SO Stanford 4:12.28
8 Elise CRANNY SR Stanford 4:12.49
9 Alexis FULLER JR Boise State 4:12.56
10 Nikki HILTZ SR Arkansas 4:13.33

2) Noe isn’t the only woman looking to make a big comeback: meet Arkansas’ Nikki Hiltz

If you watched Hiltz last year and said that she’d win her heat at NCAAs in 2018, no one would have batted an eye. She came .02 shy of the NCAA title last year and went on to place 6th at USAs.

But Hiltz’s return to the NCAA final has been anything but smooth. Hiltz began battling patellar tendonitis in December, and though she trained through it to finish 3rd at NCAA indoors in the mile, she could no longer bear training in pain and in April decided to have knee surgery to fix the problem.

“We decided I’m not gonna race until I’m 100% pain-free because it wasn’t fun racing injured indoors,” Hiltz said. “I want to be healthy. I like going for runs, I don’t like grinding in the pool. I think it was pretty much our last option.”

Even though she’s only been running on solid ground for four weeks, Hiltz did not show any ill effects today and looked terrific in winning heat 2 by .91 of a second. If she can win the final (and based on today, she’s a real threat) what a comeback story that would be — from crutches to a national title in a month.

3) The women’s sprinters are living up to the hype

We knew coming in that the level of the women’s sprinting at the NCAA level was better than ever and it lived up to the hype.

Aleia Hobbs

Aleia Hobbs

LSU’s Aleia Hobbs ran a wind-legal 10.91 to win her heat (0.0 wind) – the 4th fastest wind-legal 100 every run by a collegian during the collegiate season. Tennessee’s Shania Collins also broke 11.00 today, running 10.98 (+1.5 m/s wind) to move her into a tie for 10th on the all-time NCAA wind-legal list.

Georgia’s Lynna Irby ran 50.11 – missing the meet record by just .01 – to win her heat of the 400 by a ton (2nd was 51.63). Later Irby came back and ran 22.37 into a 0.3 m/s head wind for good measure (that was the #2 time on the day behind Harvard’s Gabrielle Thomas‘ wind-aided 22.36).

Kentucky freshman Sydney McLaughlin, who ran a modest by her standards time of 54.15 in her 400 hurdle heat (only six collegiate women have ever run faster during the collegiate season), split an easy 50.13 on her 4 x 400 and admitted afterwards that she thinks “there is a little bit more there.”

McLaughlin enjoyed her first day of competition at an outdoor NCAA championship, which went quite well for Kentucky. Coming into NCAAs, Track & Field News projected Kentucky to finish fourth in the team battle, six points out of first, but that was with Kentucky only getting four points in the pole vault. Instead they got 10.

“FIrst NCAAs – kind of crazy – a big crowd, a lot of great competition, but I think we handled it really well [as a team] for the first day,” McLaughlin said. “We all did what we need to do [in terms of] qualifying for the next round. We had a great win by Olivia Gruver [in the pole vault] who has been hurt most of the season so I feel like the team as a whole is just doing its part – I’m really happy.”

When asked if she viewed this as a “one and done” NCAA championships as many are speculating she’s going to turn pro, McLaughlin said, “I think it’s going to depend on how everything goes and how I’m feeling…It’s just one day at a time – see how things go.”

We do have some bad news, sprint fans. The forecast for Saturday projects a high of just 58 degrees, and a low of 44. And it’s going to rain. That’s awful weather for sprinting, which is a shame as with the talent in Eugene, several collegiate records would be in jeopardy in ideal conditions.

4) The women’s team battle might end up being VERY interesting

Kentucky wasn’t the only team that got a boost today for their team title hopes as Georgia which was projected to win by 2 with 18 points coming in the long jump, only got 14 points in the long jump – so a minus of 4.

Stanford, which was supposed to finish 8 points behind Georgia with the help of 14 in the javelin, got 18 in the javelin today – so a net of 4 – thanks to a 1-2 finish by Mackenzie Little and Jenna Gray. And Oregon, which was supposed to finish just 4 points behind Kentucky coming in but with zero projected points coming from 2016 NCAA 100/200 champ Arianna Washington who had been having an off year up to this point, got a boost when Washington made the 100 final with the third fastest time of the day (11.08). Remember in 2016, Washington won the 100 and 200 at NCAAs after not winning either at Pac 12s. Last year, she made the US team for Worlds in the 100 after finishing just 4th at NCAAs so she’s been known to get hot very quickly.

With five team projected to finish within 8 points of each other coming, Saturday could be crazy on the team front.

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TFN’s projected top 5 coming into the meet

5) There were some minor surprises in the 800 prelims, but the biggest names made it through

Going from a 24-person semifinal to an 8-person final in the 800 is one of the hardest tasks in all of track and field as there is little room for error.

The most well-known women in the 800 field — NCAA indoor champ Sabrina Southerland of Oregon, NCAA indoor record holder Jazmine Fray of Texas A&M, SEC champ Sammy Watson of Texas A&M, and NCAA indoor runner-up Siofra Cleirigh Buttner of Villanova all advanced.

But four of the top seven seeds failed to advance to the eight-person final, as shown below.

1        Sabrina SOUTHERLAND        SR        Oregon        2:00.72
2        Avi’ Tal WILSON-PERTEETE        FR        UNLV        2:01.14
3        Jazmine FRAY        JR        Texas A&M        2:01.18
4        Sammy WATSON        FR        Texas A&M        2:02.20
5        Sadi HENDERSON        JR        Boise State        2:02.38
6        Aaliyah MILLER        FR        Baylor        2:02.41
7        Susan ANENO        JR        Connecticut        2:02.71
8        Siofra CLEIRIGH BUTTNER        SR        Villanova        2:03.05

While UNLV true freshman Avi’ Tal Wilson-Perteete didn’t make the final (she was 9th and the first person left out), she had an incredible freshman year. Last year, she was at her high school state meet (admittedly it was California) and had a 2:09 pb. Now she’s 9th in all of college and has run 2:01.14.

6) The women’s steeple prelims had almost no drama 

The top 7 seeds in the women’s steeple all advanced and we talked to the top 2 fastest women on the year -defending champ Allie Ostrander and Colorado’s Val Constien.

1        Allie OSTRANDER        SO        Boise State        9:38.57
2        Val CONSTIEN        JR        Colorado        9:47.97
3        Paige STONER        JR        Syracuse        9:48.73
4        Grayson MURPHY        SR        Utah        9:49.50
5        Charlotte PROUSE        SO        New Mexico        9:50.47
6        Courtney COPPINGER        SR        Kansas        9:51.28
7        Alsu BOGDANOVA        SR        Eastern Michigan        9:51.29
8        Madeline STRANDEMO        SR        Minnesota        9:51.49
9        Devin CLARK        SO        Arkansas        9:53.06
10        Kristlin GEAR        FR        Furman        9:54.55

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