All we could say as we walked back to the hotel was “Wow . . . wow”. This was a meet we will never forget.
Yesterday Florida had a near-perfect day while Texas A&M did not and that determined the men’s championship. Today Georgia had a completely perfect day and Oregon had plenty of missteps, but the Ducks squeaked out a championship anyway.
Georgia started off with 24.2 points from Thursday’s field events and had just four entries today. Those entries were Kendell Williams in the heptathlon, an event she’d twice won before; Keturah Orji in the triple jump, an event in which she’d never lost; and Mady Fagan and Tatiana Gusin in the high jump, who went 1-2 at the NCAA indoor championships. The Bulldogs got three wins and a second to max out their scoring potential at 62.2 points.
Oregon had so much that it looked inevitable that they’d win, but it was far closer than anyone expected. They had no points when the day began but fourteen entries. In event after event they were almost there.
Katie Rainsberger was part of a five-wide dash to the finish in the 1500 and led with as little as 40 meters to go but ended up fourth. Alaysha Johnson contended early in the hurdles but ended up fourth with teammate Sasha Wallace—the NCAA indoor champion—back in sixth. Elexis Guster moved well at the end of the 400 but could only get sixth. Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington ran well in the 100 for second and fourth. The most alarming moment was in the 200, where Stevens led around the turn and down the stretch, got challenged by Florida’s Kyra Jefferson, then suffered a complete form breakdown and fell some 15 meters from the finish. Washington took second, but Stevens’ fall was a huge loss of points. And in the 5000 meters, Samantha Nadel and Lilli Burdon were in great scoring position with 200 meters to go and then faded to 8th and 9th for a single point.
What saved Oregon’s bacon was the 800 meters. Raevyn Rogers won her sixth NCAA championship, and teammate Brooke Feldmeier ran a brilliant race for third, a PR by nearly two full seconds.
Still, it meant that the Ducks had to win the 4×400 in order to win the meet. Despite the fact that Oregon ran the fifth-fastest time in collegiate history at the Penn Relays back in April, it was quickly apparent that this too would take everything they had. USC was ahead at the first two exchanges and retook the lead immediately after the final one. Rogers was on the anchor leg and took the lead with 200 to go, but even then it wasn’t secure. Only in the final steps did she pull away for the win.
The Three Stars
In the style of pro hockey, our picks for the meet’s three stars…
The First Star: Raevyn Rogers
Rogers simply would not allow her team to lose. She ran with ice water in her veins. She split (approximately) 27-31-31-31 in the 800 for a 2:00.02 win, then came back and anchored the 4×400 in 49.77 for another win. Oh, and Oregon broke the collegiate record too – 3:23.13. That would have won bronze at last summer’s Olympics.
The Second Star: Kyra Jefferson
Florida’s sprint star won the 200 in a collegiate record time of 22.02, breaking the altitude-aided mark of 22.04 that had stood since 1989. She also took her 4×100 team from way back up into third and ran a leg on the sixth-place 4×400.
The Third Star: Maggie Ewen
Ewen scored in three throwing events, a rare accomplishment, and broke the collegiate record in the hammer. Her 21 points in the throws came from first in the hammer, second in the discus, and sixth in the shot put.
Bonus – Fourth Star! Allie Ostrander
The Boise State redshirt freshman won the steeplechase in just her fourth attempt at the distance. She ran away from New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier over the last half-lap and looked like she had plenty more to give. Eighty minutes later she went to the start line in the 5000 meters and ran fourth. I’ll have to research it to be sure, but I’d guess she’s the first to ever score at the NCAAs in both the steeplechase and 5000 in a single day.
Biggest surprise: 1500 meters
The pace went out so slow that runners were five wide coming around the first turn and it never really got fast enough to lose anyone until less than 300 to go. Slow paces like that favor chaos and unpredictability and that’s what we got. With 50 meters to go there were still five abreast coming to the finish line: Katie Rainsberger (Oregon), Dani Jones (Colorado), Karisa Nelson (Samford), Nikki Hiltz (Arkansas), and Jamie Phelan (Michigan). The Wolverine managed to pull it out by two hundredths of a second, going from last at the bell to first at the finish. It was Michigan’s first win in this event at the outdoor nationals, and in fact they had never before finished in the top three. Phelan was part of Michigan’s cross country team that lost the NCAA Championships by a single point to Oregon, and now she is a national champion.