If the Wichita State women’s track and field team wins its first American Athletic Conference outdoor championship on Sunday, it will look back at the heptathlon on Saturday as the swinging point.
The women’s team title is expected to come down to WSU and Cincinnati, which makes the Shockers’ 1-2-3 podium sweep in the heptathlon all the more important. Cincinnati entered Saturday with the best score, but Kendra Henry, Claudia Rojo and Sydney Wilson all set personal-best scores to sweep the event, a 10-point swing in the team points race in WSU’s favor.
The sweep highlighted a near-perfect Day 2 for the WSU women’s team, which took a 19-point lead over Cincinnati into Sunday’s finals with 13 events still left to be scored.
“I really like coming into a meet with some sense of dominance in a certain event and that certainly was a dominant effort by those girls,” WSU coach Steve Rainbolt said. “That can have a dramatic impact on our pursuit of a team championship. It could be absolutely gigantic.”
The multi-events have become the hallmark of the WSU program under Rainbolt. WSU has been a constant and that depth and talent could lead the Shockers to hardware this weekend. While the women took the top three places in the heptathlon, WSU senior Ben Johnson scored a personal-best 7,413 points to win the AAC title in the decathlon.
There were only eight entries in the decathlon with five of them being Shockers. Projected for 18 points, WSU scored 21 points in the decathlon — another swing for WSU. The Shockers led the field with 87 points through seven events, although Houston is expected to make its push on Sunday in the track finals.
“We rely a lot on our multi’s to score a lot of points for us,” Johnson said. “This is a huge event for us.”
“Bolt does such a great job of coaching us,” Henry added. “He makes sure we have phenomenal people to work with, and if you’re not good in one event, then there’s someone who is and they can help you and vice versa. It’s a win-win situation. I’m surprised more schools don’t have more multis on their team.”
Another benefit of developing multi-event athletes is that they can also score points for the team in open events. Henry finished third in the open javelin on Friday, while Rojo (hurdles, long jump) and Wilson (high jump) also could score points for WSU in open events.
It all feeds into the team-first atmosphere Rainbolt has cultivated at WSU.
Even when other athletes won individual titles — like Kelsey Slawson (51 feet, 4 1/2 inches) in the shot put, Rebekah Topham (10:14.19) in the steeplechase and Rayvon Allen (25-5 1/4) in the long jump — they were more excited about scoring the maximum number of points for the team.
“Track gets viewed a lot as an individual sport, but at these conference meets it really is about the team,” Slawson said. “It feels really good to be able to contribute to that and be able to make my mark with the team.”
It was a title-defending performance by Henry, who once again set her personal-best mark at the conference meet in the heptathlon. After throwing 161 feet in the javelin, a personal-best throw and the No. 2 mark all-time at WSU, Henry followed that up with a 159-3 toss for her best score in the heptathlon that highlighted a personal-best score of 5,249 to move up to No. 39 nationally.
Rojo (5,219) and Wilson (5,106) also notched personal-best scores in the heptathlon. Rojo’s performance was highlighted by winning the long jump and 800, while Wilson made her mark on Friday by winning the high jump and 200.
In the decathlon, Johnson started his Saturday with a personal-best time of 14.36 in the 110 hurdles to highlight his day 2 performance. His score of 7,413 is No. 17 nationally, and now Johnson will have to wait until the conference meets across the country conclude to see if that remains in the top-24 that automatically qualify for the national meet.
“It feels really good to win, but it will feel a lot better if I qualify,” Johnson said, laughing. “If not, it’s feels like it was almost for nothing.”
For Slawson, it was the first conference championship of her career. After improving her school-record mark in the shot put last week to a personal-best 52-2, Slawson won an event she came in ranked second to a Cincinnati thrower for another 4-point swing in WSU’s favor.
Topham’s victory was expected, but that didn’t make her meet and stadium record time of 10:14.19 any less exciting. While it is still 14 seconds off her personal-best time, Topham said she had the records (10:17) in mind coming down the final straightaway.
“I wasn’t really going for the record coming in because conference is more about placing and scoring points for your team,” Topham said. “Honestly, I forgot what the record was during the race but my coach told me with 200 to go that I had a chance to get it if I finished strong. I figured I might as well do that.”
The men’s team received a nice bump in the final event on Saturday, as the Shockers placed three in the top-five of the long jump. Allen took home by matching his personal-best leap of 25-5¼, while teammates Jared Belardo (24-0¾, fourth) and Kaden Griffin (23-11½, fifth) helped rack up 19 points for WSU in the event.
While Allen won the title by nearly a full foot over the competition, he was glad to see his final jump match his personal-best.
“My progressions were pretty good and then to end up matching my PR was perfect,” Allen said. “Usually I know before I take off if I’m going to jump far because of my speed. When I feel myself running fast off the board and shoot up in the air, I kind of know. The key for me is to drive my knee up when I come off the board and hold it for as long as I can.”
AAC outdoor track and field championships
at Cessna Stadium
Team scores (after 7 events) — Wichita State 87, Cincinnati 51, Connecticut 42, Memphis 21, Tulsa 21, Houston 18, East Carolina 16, Tulane 15, South Florida 2.
3,000 steeplechase — 1. Rotich, Tulane, 8:56.39; 2. Sanchez-Pinto, Memphis, 8:59.23; 3. McGonnigle, Connecticut, 9:04.54; 4. Kossover, WSU, 9:07.42; 5. Landon, WSU, 9:07.57; 6. Wyatt, Memphis, 9:07.59; 7. Banos, Cincinnati, 9:11.97; 8. Wickoren, WSU, 9:13.03.
Long jump — 1. Allen, WSU, 25-5¼; 2. Horton, ECU, 24-6½; 3. Snead, Connecticut, 24-1; 4. Belardo, WSU, 24-0¾; 5. Griffin, WSU, 23-11½; 6. Olojo, Memphis, 23-9; 7. Wright, Cincinnati, 23-6; 8. Terry, USF, 23-4½.
Shot put — 1. Valencia, Houston, 59-10¼; 2. Gibbons, Houston, 58-1; 3. Abraham, Cincinnati, 57-4¼; 4. Martens, WSU, 56-1; 5. McCracken, ECU, 55-10¼; 6. Meece, Cincinnati, 55-7½; 7. Stueber, Connecticut, 54-9½; 8. Deaton, Cincinnati, 53-5¾.
Decathlon — 1. Johnson, WSU, 7,413; 2. Torney, Connecticut, 7,231; 3. Berthenet, Cincinnati, 7,084; 4. Stiawalt, WSU, 6,829; 5. Grosse, Connecticut, 6,756; 6. Dubbert, WSU, 6,332; 7. Downes, WSU, 6,296; 8. Shaffer, WSU, 6,138.
Team scores (after 8 events) — Wichita State 66, Cincinnati 47, Memphis 45, Tulsa 35, Tulane 22, East Carolina 19, Connecticut 19, Houston 16, South Florida 15, SMU 14, Central Florida 12, Temple 2.
3,000 steeplechase — 1. Topham, WSU, 10:14.19; 2. Sullivan, ECU, 10:21.32; 3. Pesendorfer, Tulsa, 10:22.27; 4. Bolliger, Tulsa, 10:25.84; 5. Melius, Tulane, 10:27.88; 6. Sandwell, Memphis, 10:28.77; 7. Jones, Temple, 10:45.82; 8. Grogan, SMU, 10:57.26.
Pole vault — 1. Markel, Tulane, 14-1¾; 2. Brass, Cincinnati, 13-1¾; 3. Modic, Tulane, 13-1¾; 4. Carroll, USF, 12-10; 5. Lambeth, USF, 12-10; 6. Frey, WSU, 12-10; 7. Potts, Tulane, 12-6; 8. Catherine, Cincinnati, 12-6.
Long jump — 1. Spurgeon, Tulsa, 20-8; 2. Gordon, Memphis, 20-7¼; 3. Woods, Connecticut, 20-1½; 4. Samuels, Houston, 19-11¾; 5. Whitaker, ECU, 19-4¾; 6. Stith, ECU, 19-3½; 7. Mitxelena, Cincinnati, 19-0½; 8. Ellis, USF, 18-9¼.
Shot put — 1. Slawson, WSU, 51-4½; 2. Echikunwoke, Cincinnati, 50-10¼; 3. Adejokun, Houston, 50-10; 4. Carter, UCF, 50-2; 5. Smith, Cincinnati, 49-8½; 6. McMiller, Memphis, 49-5; 7. Heckaman, CIncinnati, 49-5; 8. Kakoulias, WSU, 47-9¼.
Pentathlon — 1. Henry, WSU, 5,249; 2. Rojo, WSU, 5,219; 3. Wilson, WSU, 5,106; 4. Straus, Cincinnati, 4,990; 5. Stith, ECU, 4,956; 6. Urbano, Cincinnati, 4,908; 7. Wague, Houston, 4,683; 8. Spears, Cincinnati, 4,649.