It was a big day at the University of Kentucky’s Nutter Fieldhouse and it had nothing to do with the ‘Cats match-up against Vanderbilt. Track and field was the main focus in this impressive facility and the results of todays meet showed why some of the best athletes in the country continue to come back to this meet.
The day started off relatively quiet with most of the field events, but the excitement vaulted to a high point over at the pole vault pit. Margo Tucker (Lawrence Central, IN) had been the lone athlete left in the competition after clearing 11 feet, but that didn’t slow her down in the slightest. After hitting 12-03, she stumbled a bit on her first two attempts at 12-06 before making an adjustment on her last attempt. “I went to a bigger pole,” said Tucker, “The pole I was on was just a little bit too soft, it wasn’t giving me the launch that I really needed to clear 12-06 comfortably.” That sent her right over 12-06 on her third run at that height. Up to 12-09 went the bar and Tucker went over without a hitch on her first vault. “I just got really excited after hitting the jump before and that momentum just kind of carried me.” Having notched a personal best, the bar was moved to 13-00 and the first attempt looked great, before Tucker just knicked the bar with her legs. She wasn’t close on her other two attempts, but understood that her training focus has definitely made the difference this season. “It’s just a lot more confidence this year. This year I’ve hit the sprints really hard and the weight room and just am not afraid to grab new poles.” Her vault of 12-09 shatters the old meet record of 12-00 and makes her US #4 and heading into the national meets, it brings her plenty of confidence going forward.
The boys’ vaulters also brought some intrigue as current US#2 performer Paul Malquist (Gainsville, GA) cleared at least 16 feet for the third time this indoor season. A big surprise was Ryan Ramsey (St. Xavier, KY) who was competing in the vault for just the third time this weekend and cleared an impressive 15-06 to take 2nd. Ramsey was just one of several Kentucky field event competitors that left their mark on the meet as Jackie Stevens (Bullitt East, KY) and Kyle Jenkins (Male, KY) were winners in the shot put and Catherine Claywell (Murray, KY) and PJ Randles (North Hardin, KY) were runners-up in the high jump and triple jump respectively.
The sprint and hurdle prelims took the meet up another notch, though with their performances. Bridgette Owens (Oak Park, MI) went 8.52 in the 60 hurdles, making her US #2 at that point, while Jasmin Stowers, a constant in the meet here, was 8.73 in qualifying to lead the rest of the group. The finals saw Owens drop even lower hitting 8.49 (still US #2) with Kendell Williams (Kell HS, GA) stepping up to get 2nd in 8.59. In the girls’ 60 prelims, Alycia Prior (Mt. Zion, GA) hit 7.59 (US #6) to lead qualifiers, while Chesna Sykes (Bishop Hartley, OH) and Laquisha Jackson (Chattanooga, TN) made waves in both reaching 7.65. These ladies would take it up a notch in the finals with Owens dropping to 8.49 in the hurdles (still US #2) while Sykes would win a very tight race in the 60m winning over Prior 7.49 to 7.50. Sykes becomes the US #2 performer, while Prior is now US #3 in the 60m, but they were just warming up the straightaways for Blake Heriot it appeared.
Heriot unleashed in the 60 meter final, hitting 6.75, after his 6.77 prelim, and tying him with Prezel Hardy of Texas as the fastest time in the nation. Looking closer at the results you can see the dominance as Heriot beat runner-up Shawn Smith (Olathe East, KS) by about 8-tenths and Smith now sits US #4 after his 6.83. Toss in Marcus Winstead (Owensboro, KY) and his 3rd place time of 6.87 and you have a finish that included three of the ten fastest times in the nation this season! Heriot brought more to the table in the 400 meters, still looking like he was fresh and ready, he dialed in a 47.59 to take the win, putting him alone as the US #1 performer at that distance. James Harris (Speed City, AL) followed nicely with a 48.02 of his own, which would have been US #1 had it not been for Heriot, and William Henry (Trotwood-Madison, OH) dialed up a 48.41 which makes him the US #4 performer! Another big win for Heriot, the Florida-signee looked smooth and controlled in laying it out there and served notice that he may just be the man to beat in the sprints this year.
Let’s not forget Briana Nelson (Quickstriders TC, SC) who rocketed to a US #1 of her own in a 55.12 to win the 400 meters. She handled a solid field incredibly well and really didn’t show much effort on the outside in disposing on the competition. Nelson has great history at this distance and this sets her up nicely to make a run at her 3rd straight NIN title. She would return later to claim the 200 meter title as well in 24.64 and just add to a resume that is now overflowing with big meet wins.
The most hyped race coming in was definitely the boys’ mile, though, and through about halfway, it looked like it might not come through at all. After hitting splits of 63 and 2:08, there was still a pack of six or seven athletes that were in serious contention until Chris Walden (Carmel, IN) laid down the gauntlet and started spreading out the group quickly. It wasn’t anything special, but hitting 3:11 for three-quarters, meant that after most of the group had sat around waiting for something to happen, this had just become a kickers’ race. With Colby Alexander (Strongsville, OH) on the shoulder of Walden at that point, he took the lead and didn’t look back. “I wasn’t expecting (Walden) to do that at all. I was talking to him earlier, like last week he said he hasn’t done anything, just like a tempo run every week…. When he went I was just like ‘I got to just go with him, stay on his shoulder,’ I don’t think he’s going to be able to keep this up.” Alexander responded nicely, though, pushing to the end and earning a big win running 4:12.25 (US #2) and taking down Andrew Bumbalough’s meet record of 4:16.03 in the process. He talked about not being able to run much on 200 meter tracks because he has broken his foot due to the turns in the past and won’t be competing at any indoor national meets in lieu of that. Having signed with Oregon, though, he had some interesting comments, “Going into these races with bigger competition, I’m just like, ‘I’m an Oregon Duck now, nobody should beat me.’ I just want to prove to some people who say ‘Oh Colby Alexander, why is he going to Oregon? I’ve never heard of this kid in my life.’ I just want to prove to them, I’m a threat.”
While Alexander took the win, it was great times for Omar Kaddurah (Grand Blanc, MI) in 2nd (4:13.48), Michael Atchoo (Troy, MI) in 3rd (4:14.34), and Walden, who ended up 4th in 4:16.18. Kadurrah’s time makes him tied for US #7 and Atchoo is now US #10 on the Milesplit lists, making this just another race with three national top ten performances.
The girls’ race was very similar for the first three-quarters of the race as it came through with splits of 72, 2:30, and 3:45, but there wasn’t near the excitement as we saw in the boys’ race as Emma Brink led wire-to-wire in winning (4:59.56). The group behind was close the entire race with Waverly Neer (Culver Academies, IN), Stephanie Strasser (Fern Beach, FL), Liz Anderson (duPont Manual, KY), Carly Hamilton (Springboro, OH), and Dena O’Brien (Pelham, AL) all moving up to challenge Brink at one point or another. Neer finished 2nd in 5:01.66 and the others followed the previous order finishing within 5 seconds of each other. The quality was there for a great race, but a slow pace early played right into Brink’s hands and she powered away for another big win.
The other distance races were impressive in their own rights, and they gave us plenty more to talk about. Runner-up here last year at 800 meters, Marie Demedicis (Mountain Brook, AL) took control late after Taneisha Cordell (New Albany, OH) had staked herself to a big lead early, and finished first in 2:12.71 making her the new US #3 at that distance. Cordell struggled in the second half coming around the oval for 2nd in 2:14.88 ahead of Emma Brink (2:16.06) and Josie Crouch of the Action Track Club out of West Virginia (2:16.91).
The boys’ took to the track then and Nick Kaiser (Temperance-Beford, MI) put on a show. Starting on the pole position, Kaiser kicked hard off the start to keep position and then threw it into neutral. Keeping the inside position through a lazy first 400 (58), Kaiser started to move at the halfway point and brains started churning. “I knew we went out kind of slow, in about 57, and I knew the guys were going to be right behind me, so once I got to the bell, I just started making a move from there.” He just kept pouring it on from there and though there was plenty of movement behind him, none were able to touch Kaiser today as he hit US #1 1:53.17 and it was a nice indoor PR for the junior. In just his first year competing indoors, after playing basketball for the past two winters, Kaiser decided that he would give a little more focus to training this year. “I played basketball on JV last year. I was going to play varsity this year, but I decided that I’m just going to stick with running.” His schedule has him lined up for the MITS meet for Michigan’s unofficial indoor state championships and then off to Boston for a run at a postseason title.
Focusing only on Kaiser’s performance in the 800 meters would be a disservice, though, as the guys behind him put up some nice marks on the national scene as well. A World Youth Championships qualifier last summer, Quincy Downing (Glenville, OH) took a closely contested 2nd-place finish over Henry Stevens-Carter (Kennesaw, GA) and Andrew Stewart (North Hardin, KY). Downing’s time of 1:54.64, along with Stevens-Carter’s 1:54.70 and Stewart’s 1:54.91, ranks in the top 10 among athletes nationally at this point in the season, making this truly one of the most impressive races of the day.
Let’s not forget those terrible two-miles where a couple of strong fields were assembled and, though, neither gave way to a top US time, they both had great action the length of the race. Gabrielle Anzalone (Grand Blanc, MI) led in the girls’ version, basically, from start to finish, and though she looked to tighten up a good amount at the end she held off a nice group of three charging hard to get a win in 10:57.70. Just behind Anzalone was Stephanie Strasser, doubling back from the mile, and slipping just under 11 minutes, along with Michelle Thomas of Cincinnati Glen Este, OH (10:58.36 and 10:59.47). Liz Anderson was just off the back after charging hard on the last lap and came across at 11:01.10, making it a big PR for her.
The boys’ race was a great show as well, though, with a big group being in the mix most of the race, just like the mile. After a conservative first quarter, the pace started to move a bit and the field, which had 28 finishers all bunched together at the start, began to string out. John Sharpe (Oak Ridge, TN) took his turn at the lead early, as did Tyler Anyan (Brookwood, GA) and a few others, but coming into the last half mile, the lead group had thinned to just a few and with two laps to go Stacey Eden (Shelby County, KY) put in a big surge to break it wide open. Clint McKelvey (Maryville, TN) was the only one holding on for the chase and when Eden started to labor at the start of the last lap, McKelvey grabbed control and ran away with the race. The 9:23.14 for McKelvey was his first race since dealing with a stress fracture in October, “(This race) was really just to get my racing legs back. I wasn’t worried about time at all, I just wanted to go out and win, you know. The way the race went out, no one else wanted to take the lead and I can go out to my track two miles from house and do a time trial. I came to run a race, so I did and it was fun.”Anyan came back for a 2nd place finish in 9:30.80 and Ryan Eaton (Greenwood, KY) doubled back nicely from the mile for 3rd in 9:33.18.
Closing out the meet were the 1600 and 3200 meter relays and there were some strong showings to note there as well as two squads on the girls’ side broke the 4-minute barrier in the 4x400 (MI Accelerators-3:56.42 and Withrow(OH) -3:57.81). DeMatha Catholic and MI Accelerators left the rest of the races in the boys’ 4x400 running 3:19.79 and 3:20.28 for 1st and 2nd respectively. MI Accelerators won easily in the girls’ 4x800 running a strong time of 9:34.20, while Viking TC out of South Carolina claimed the boys’ title in a very impressive 7:56.55.
It was a great day of competition with plenty of top-notch performances from what seemed like every event throughout the day. The crowd was locked in all day and really understood that what they were watching was something special and the athletes responded to the atmosphere by putting on a great show. While there has been widespread conversation about the fairness of the oversized indoor tracks around the country, this facility is one of the most impressive in the country and has consistently allowed for national-caliber performances because of the quality and depth of the fields in each of the events. The consistency has been what will continue to make this meet a yearly stop on so many schedules in the Midwest. We hope you can make it next year!