One year after the Wichita State women’s track and field team executed a mass redshirt strategy, the Shockers collected on their pay-off on Sunday by winning the American Athletic Conference outdoor track and field team championship in dominant fashion at Cessna Stadium.
After finishing ninth in the 12-team conference at last year’s outdoor meet, due to redshirting many of the top athletes, many of those athletes who sat out last year were the ones who helped the WSU women score 126 points to win the conference title by 19 points over the field.
It was the seventh conference outdoor championship in the last nine years for WSU, which won six of the final seven before departing the Missouri Valley.
The WSU women scored in 16 of 21 events with the highest being the 24 points scored Saturday by sweeping the heptathlon. The team featured four conference champions over the weekend with Rebekah Topham (3,000 steeplechase), Kendra Henry (heptathlon), Kelsey Slawson (shot put) and Winny Koskei (10,000) that all but locked up the title before Sunday’s finals on the track.
The WSU men’s team made the team race closer than expected with Houston, the No. 8-ranked team in the country. The Cougars entered as heavy favorites, but a good meet from WSU and injury pull-outs from Houston led to a one-point race with Houston leading entering the final two events of the meet, the 5,000 and 1,600 relay.
The first swing of Sunday occurred when WSU junior Mason Buckmaster cleared a personal-best of 7 feet, 0½ inches in the high jump on his final attempt to break a tie with Houston’s Brendon Rivera to win the AAC title.
WSU then piled on nearly 40 points in the field events Sunday with Hayden Bugner (third, 16-7¼), Bryce Bearden (fourth, 15-11¼) and Tate McDonald (seventh, 15-5½) in the pole vault, Jared Belardo (third, 51-10½), Kaden Griffin (fourth, 50-7½) and Rayvon Allen (sixth, 49-2¼) in the triple jump, and Isaiah Evans (second, 172-1) and Cory Martens (third, 170-8) in the discus.
Even with Houston dominating the sprints on the track (118 points were scored in races 400 meters or less), WSU was able to battle back with Zack Penrod breaking the meet record in the 1,500 to win the AAC title in 3:49.07.
Teammate Jed Helker also scored points in the 1,500 (sixth, 3:56.32) and the 800 (eighth, 1:59.55), while Penrod also scored in the 800 (fifth, 1:52.63). Senior Austin Corley finished runner-up in the 400 hurdles in 50.93 for another swing for WSU.
Houston took a 2-point lead into the final race of the meet, the 1,600 relay. The Cougars entered as heavy favorites, although WSU was slated second in the event. Needing the win in the 1,600 relay for a shared title, WSU’s chances of an upset ended on the second leg when Corley pulled up with an injury.
Houston won the team title with 178.75 points, 12 more than WSU in second place at 166.75.
The men’s team had champions in Aaron True (javelin), Rayvon Allen (long jump), Ben Johnson (decathlon), Buckmaster (high jump) and Penner (5,000).
The women’s team race was much less dramatic, but that didn’t make it any less sweeter for the Shockers.
They did most of their point-scoring on Friday and Saturday, but WSU did receive a nice boost from freshman Sidney Sapp registering a personal-best 5-9¾ in the high jump to finish third.
The Shockers also scored an unexpected nine points in the 400 hurdles with Anycia Cole (fourth, 1:00.31), Alexi Whatley (sixth, 1:01.06) and Claudia Rojo (seventh, 1:02.73) all scoring.