University of Kansas

KU freshman Zach Bradford vaults his way to KU record and the fourth best mark in the world this year

Special to The Star

Bouncing up off the heavy mat in the pole-vault pit at Rock Chalk Park, Zach Bradford let the raucous applause and cheering from the bleachers wash over his body, falling back down to the mat with a heavy thud.

The KU freshman had not only eclipsed the KU track and field pole-vault record, but he’d also just recorded the fourth-best vault in the world for 2019 at 19 feet, 0.25 inches.

“I felt it coming in practice, everything is starting to click,” Bradford said on Saturday after his vault at the KU Relays. The previous record of 18-10.75 was set by Jeff Buckingham in 1983.

Competing in a tough field that included former Jayhawk vaulters Jack Albright and Nick Meyer, Bradford captivated the crowd as he made some KU history.

“I was like ‘I’ve got four more years to break that record, I’ll get there eventually,’” Bradford said. “I didn’t think it would come my first year.”

Bradford’s efforts earned him the men’s Performer of the Meet award, but the freshman wasn’t the only bright spot for the Jayhawks on Saturday.

The ‘invincibles’

It’s been 316 days since Bryce Hoppel lost an individual event. That’s 12 straight victories, including a 2019 Big 12 indoor championship and a 2019 NCAA indoor national championship.

And the junior for KU made sure that streak wasn’t about to end in front of the home crowd on Saturday: Hoppel won the men’s 800-meter race by over 3 seconds with a final time of 1 minute, 49.10 seconds.

“It’s a little bit of extra pressure. Especially because since I got the double today,” Hoppel said. “Hopefully I am not too tired for the next one. It kind of pushes me more to keep competing and running faster.”

The second race Hoppel referred to was the last race of the day, the men’s 1,600-meter relay. The Jayhawks finished second behind Wichita State, but that was in no way a reflection on Hoppel, who received the baton in fourth place before jumping the Jayhawks up to second, and almost victory: KU lost by 0.07 seconds to the Shockers.

Also competing at the KU Relays was recent KU graduate Sharon Lokedi, who was in her first KU Relays since graduation. Still donning a white KU uniform — differentiating her from the Jayhawks’ powder blue and pink uniforms — Lokedi claimed an easy victory in the 1,500 meters.

Clocking in at 4:24:00, she finished over 6 seconds ahead of second-placed KU runner Catherine Liggett.

“I don’t feel like there’s any difference. We’re all still training together,” Lokedi said. “I do everything just the same, I haven’t changed anything. I just feel normal.”

Lokedi owns 10 Big 12 track and field championships, an NCAA track and field national championship and an NCAA cross country championship.

“The biggest part of my life is here, Lokedi said. “I’ve learned a lot, and there’s a lot of people I’ve never met. I have amazing fans and I enjoy being here. I am never going to forget everything I did here, the opportunities that I got and the life that it shaped me to be who I am.”

Other notable KU results

The KU women’s 1,600-meter relay team finished in second place by 0.6 seconds. The Jayhawks held the lead until Lincoln University overtook KU’s Marleena Eubanks on the final stretch.

Eubanks additionally finished third in the women’s 400 meters with a time of 54.64 seconds, coming in behind fellow Jayhawk Mariah Kuykendoll, who finished second at 54.43 seconds.

Freshman jumper Cordell Tinch took first in the men’s 100-meter hurdles (13.71) and high jump (6 feet, 11 inches). He also finished fifth in the long jump (24-9).