Wichita State Shockers

“The big one will come”: WSU’s Aaron True’s third javelin title highlights day 1 of AAC track meet

Wichita State senior Aaron True won his second straight javelin title at Day 1 of the American Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships at Cessna Stadium on Friday.
Wichita State senior Aaron True won his second straight javelin title at Day 1 of the American Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships at Cessna Stadium on Friday. Courtesy photo

It still hasn’t fully settled in to Aaron True that a kid from Leroy, Kansas (population 540) became a three-time conference champion javelin thrower.

True doesn’t spend much time thinking about the odds of what he’s achieving, only the next task at hand. On Friday, that was winning the javelin title on the first day of the American Athletic Conference Track and Field Outdoor Championships at Cessna Stadium.

While he didn’t launch one that rivaled his season-best throw of 247 feet, 2 inches that has True ranked No. 3 in the country, he did manage a throw of 239-3 to win the AAC title by more than 40 feet over teammate Jeff Ast (197-5). It was the second straight AAC title for True, who also won the Missouri Valley Conference title as a sophomore in 2017.

“Coming in I always hoped to be the best in everything I did,” True said. “I worked day after day just to work my up the totem pole. It’s been an awesome ride. and I’m happy with a championship and I’m happy to come away as a three-time conference champion.”

WSU has been a factory for elite throwers under coach Steve Rainbolt and throwing coach John Hetzendorf. The Shockers’ history is littered with national qualifiers and All-Americans, but True has elevated himself to a new class.

He became an All-American last spring and his career-best throw of 254-3 is the best mark in WSU history by nearly 11 feet.

“He’s had a heck of a run here,” Hetzendorf said. “We’ve had a lot of really good javelin throwers over the years and he’s definitely the best guy. I don’t think anyone else has won three conference championships and we’ve had national qualifiers and All-Americans here before.”

What has set True apart is his dedication to improvement. He obsesses over the details of his throws, and True has become so advanced that Hetzendorf sometimes defers to him when it comes to adjustments because of how much he respects True’s opinion.

“I don’t know if I’ve felt that way wither another guy in javelin or any other throwing event, for that matter,” Hetzendorf said.

True thrives for the consistency he displayed on Friday. Even though he couldn’t pull out one of his best throws in chilly conditions, True still threw what would be a top-eight mark in the country.

Now True hopes he can replicate his best throw in the meets that matter the most coming up later this month and in June.

“I just have to keep being consistent and I think the big one will come eventually,” True said. “Hopefully it comes at the right time at Nationals.”

Koskei wins sixth AAC title in record time

After 24 laps of a back-and-forth tussle with SMU’s Hannah Miller, WSU sophomore Winny Koskei exploded in the final 200 meters to pull away for the nearly four-second victory in the 10,000 in a meet-record time of 34 minutes, 24.94 seconds.

Koskei’s ascension to stardom began last spring at the AAC Outdoor Championships, where she doubled up as the 5,000 and 10,000 champion. Next, she won the 2018 AAC Cross Country championship, then added the 3,000 and 5,000 titles in the AAC Indoor Championships.

Friday was the latest chapter, as Koskei closed the race with a 68-second last lap, 10 seconds faster than any other lap.

“Winny’s kick is exceptional and when she wants something, she can really put it on them,” WSU distance coach Kirk Hunter said.

Koskei and Hunter devised nearly a dozen race plans together for how to race Miller. When the pace was slower than expected halfway through the race, Koskei tried to surge forward to create separation. The plan failed and Miller took the lead with eight laps remaining and remained in front until the final lap.

After sticking on Miller’s hip throughout, Koskei made her move around the final bend of the track. She took the lead just before the curve and by the time Koskei entered the final straightaway, she had opened up a sizable lead on Miller and coasted to the win.

“I told myself that I was just going to go and see what happens,” Koskei said. “I was feeling good. My goal was to come here and try to defend my title from last year, so I am happy.”

“When it comes to the 10K, you have to come up with that many strategies when you’re going against someone as great as Hannah Miller,” Hunter said. “So when the surge didn’t work, Winny went back to I think plan No. 6 and it was to just hang on and see if we had it at the end.

“We had all of those plans, but at the end of the day, Winny made her own plan and made all of the right decisions as the race went on. It was an extremely smart race by her.”

It reminded Rainbolt of watching former All-American runner Aliphine Tuliamuk.

“She’s just remarkable and you can always count on her to battle so hard,” Rainbolt said. “I don’t know if we can expect her to win every race she’s in, but man, it feels like it whenever she gets in an important race. She’s going to show up big.”

Up next Koskei will try to defend her 5,000 title against Miller at 6:40 p.m. Sunday.

Henry moves up to No. 2 all-time in women’s javelin

The women’s javelin also produced another highlight for the Shockers, as sophomore Kendra Henry threw a career-best mark of 161-0 for the second best throw in WSU history. The mark was a 5-foot improvement from her previous best and was good enough for a third-place finish on Friday.

“I was really happy with it, but I know there’s still more that I can still do,” Henry said. “I’ve been practicing pretty good, but I just haven’t been throwing anything in meets. I think I finally found my feet getting out in front of me so I’m not having to teeter-totter at the finish, so I’m already back there and could plant one good.”

Henry’s success continues to astonish Rainbolt because her throwing mechanics are still not up to par. Right now Henry, a Waverly native, is thriving off pure competitive drive and strength.

“Kendra Henry is one tough girl,” Rainbolt said. “It’s so much fun seeing someone compete as hard as her. She has weaknesses with her technique, but she is going to find a way to compete and put up a good mark. She’s not an elite technician, it’s just pure stubborn toughness and grit. It’s really impressive to watch.”

WSU women put three in top-four of heptathlon

Henry was also involved in the other positive for the WSU women’s team, as the Shockers have three in the top four of the heptathlon after day 1. WSU sophomore Sydney Wilson (3,236 points) took the lead by 129 points over the field, and teammates Claudia Rojo (3,089) and Henry (3,068) were right behind her in third and fourth.

It was a pleasant surprise for Wilson, a Sterling native who entered with the fourth-best score in the field. But after posting an above-average time in the 100-meter hurdles (14.38 seconds), Wilson followed it up by winning the high jump with a personal-best mark of 5 feet, 7 1/4 inches winning the 200 with a season-low time of 25.61.

“It gives me a little bit of an advantage going into day 2,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely encouraging and takes a little bit of pressure off. It felt good in the high jump to finally get (5-7 1/4), that was a PR, so it was like finally getting a little bit of mission accomplished.”

Rainbolt considered the day 1 performances from Wilson, Rojo and Henry as above-average as they battle Cincinnati’s Katie Straus, who is in second place. The team title is expected to come down to a close race between WSU and Cincinnati, so how the top of the heptathlon shakes out could potentially be a big swing for the Shockers.

“All three of those girls are up there battling, and if they can battle through to the finish successfully, then they would go 1-2-3,” Rainbolt said. “I think right now we’re projected for 19 points, so 24 points would be huge. All three of them are doing great, but Sydney Wilson in particular is having a heck of a meet.”

WSU’s Johnson in the lead after Day 1 decathlon

In the men’s decathlon, WSU senior Ben Johnson leads the field by 21 points through five events with a score of 3,895. Johnson described his day 1 performance as good, but not great with no personal-bests in the 100 (10.89), long jump (22-2 1/4), shot put (46-5 1/4), high jump (6-4 3/4) and 400 (51.28).

After earning All-American status in the heptathlon during indoor season, Johnson is still looking for a score that will qualify for the NCAA Championships in June.

“I want to come (Saturday) and have a good day, qualify for nationals and win,” Johnson said. “I know I can do it, I just have to put together a solid meet. I need a good (110 hurdles) race to get the ball rolling. The first event is the most important to me. Snowball effect.”

Other notes

  • WSU freshman Yazmine Wright, a Hutchinson native, ran a career-best 2:10.76 in the 800 trials to qualify for Sunday’s finals. The 3-second PR for Wright was the sixth-fastest time in outdoor history at WSU.
  • A pleasant surprise for WSU’s men’s team was junior Zack Penrod (1:51.71) and Jed Helker (1:52.85) each running personal-best times in the 800 trials to qualify for Sunday’s finals. Penner qualified with the second-fastest time, while Helker qualified for finals after entering with the 15th-fastest seed time.
  • WSU junior Alexi Whatley not only was a surprise qualifier for Sunday’s finals in the the 400 hurdles, but she shaved a full second off her personal-best time in 1:00.40 for the second-fastest qualifying time. Teammates Anycia Cole (1:01.42, third) and Claudia Rojo (1:01.93, eighth) also qualified for the finals.
  • In the men’s hammer, WSU entered with the top two marks in the conference but had to settle for a third-place finish from Cory Martens with a throw of 197-8.
  • In the women’s hammer, Cincinnati’s Annette Echikunwoke set an AAC meet record with a winning throw of 214-7 that moved her up to No. 11 in the country and win her third straight conference title.
  • Memphis senior Ashley Pryke, a two-time All-American, won her third straight AAC title in the women’s javelin with a meet-record throw of 169-5. Her season-best throw of 188-6 is the second-best mark in the country.
  • Houston senior Amere Lattin ran an AAC meet record time of 49.79 in the 400 hurdles for the fastest qualifying time. WSU senior Austin Corley (51.82) qualified third for Sunday’s finals.

AAC track and field outdoor championships

at Wichita State

Men’s

10,000 — 1. Bienenfeld, Cincinnati, 30:21.63; 2. Brackman, Connecticut, 30:28.16; 3. Akers, Tulsa, 30:31.30; 4. Lynch, Tulsa, 30:37.92; 5. Montoya, WSU, 30:57.10; 6. Ciaccia, ECU, 31:06.05; 7. Gleason, Memphis, 31:13.95; 8. Maniscalco, Connecticut, 31:14.13.

Hammer throw — 1. Meece, Cincinnati, 204-4; 2. Rapp, Tulsa, 200-11; 3. Martens, WSU, 197-8; 4. Sheere, Memphis, 187-4; 5. Castano, Connecticut, 184-2; 6. Province, Cincinnati, 180-9; 7. Rieman, Cincinnati, 175-8; 8. Robinson, USF, 172-4.

Javelin — 1. True, WSU, 239-3; 2. Ast, WSU, 197-5; 3. Lauria, Cincinnati, 193-0; 4. Watson, Tulane, 193-0; 5. Dubbert, WSU, 192-3; 6. Jeffers, Connecticut, 192-0; 7. Still, Tulsa, 188-6; 8. Sadowski, ECU, 186-11.

Women’s

10,000 — 1. Koskei, WSU, 34:24.94; 2. Miller, SMU, 34:28.48; 3. Klopfer, Tulsa, 34:40.25; 4. Ojstersek, SMU, 34:55.20; 5. O’Brien, Tulsa, 35:26.27; 6. Markel, Cincinnati, 35:39.62; 7. Ryan, Memphis, 35:49.77; 8. Hasty, Connecticut, 35:53.31.

Hammer throw — 1. Echikunwoke, Cincinnati, 214-7; 2. Botsis, Connecticut, 202-9; 3. McMiller, Memphis, 200-7; 4. Durant, UCF, 199-11; 5. Jonsdottir, Memphis, 197-10; 6. Martin, Houston, 194-7; 7. Carter, UCF, 192-7; 8. Lenton, Memphis, 192-1.

Javelin — 1. Pryke, Memphis, 169-5; 2. Jaidi, Memphis, 169-0; 3. Henry, WSU, 161-0; 4. Krug, USF, 151-9; 5. Lund, Tulsa, 150-3; 6. Ghalam, Connecticut, 145-7; 7. Miles, WSU, 141-10; 8. Botsis, Connecticut, 138-4.

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