Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships - Day Two, Big Ten Champs: Positioning For Points by Dave Hunter

This is the day two of the Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships coverage from our columnist Dave Hunter. Dave has taken on the role of the traveling observer, giving RBR readers his view of how the meets play out. Conference meets are like chess games, one must keep track of all the moving parts or face checkmate....

Drake Stadium, photo courtesy of Drake Relays
Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships - Day Two

Big Ten Champs: Positioning For Points

May 11, 2013
Columbus, Ohio

On the PGA tour, the golf professionals refer to Saturday's third round of competition as "Moving Day."  The moniker is a reference to the day's goal of making a move into position to perform well in Sunday's final round.  If you apply that thinking to track & field, Saturday proved to be "Moving Day" for the competitors at the Big Ten's Outdoor Track & Field Championships as first-round competitors navigated through prelims to qualify for the finals.

The 4 x 100 relay got the day rolling.  On the women's side, smooth baton exchanges earned the OSU quartet the fastest qualifying time [44.49] heading into Sunday's final.  But watch out for the Illinois women [44.90].  Ashley Spencer and company are playing opossum and should be very tough in the final.  For the men, Illinois [39.78] edged Nebraska [39.82] which sets the stage for an exciting final.

In the women's sprints, Penn State's Mahagony Jones turned in a polished performance as the top 100 qualifier [11.40] and goes into the final as the favorite.  At the other end of the spectrum, Illinois' Spencer - coming off her spectacular performance at the Drake Relays - Dave_Hunter_Right_On_Track.pnglooks bulletproof in the 400 with a clearly superior leading qualifier 52.66 - nearly a second faster than her next fastest competitor.  The real tussle will come when Jones and Spencer go head-to-head in the 200.

In the men's sprints, Iowa senior Justin Austin [10.53/20.54] looks to do battle with his teammate Josh Larney [10.49] in the 100 and with OSU sophomore Tim Faust [20.80] in the 200.  In the 400, Illinois' Stephon Pamilton [46.32] will take on a pair of Nebraska sprinters - Levi Gipson [46.50] and Cody Rush [46.63].

In the middle distance events, the women's races seem wide open. Smooth-striding Samantha Murphy [2:05.04] looked crisp in her 800 heat - but Michigan's Rebecca Addison or others could well prevail in what should be a competitive final.  There will be four Wolverine women the 1500 final - and any one of them could win it.  For the men, Penn State's Casimir Loxsom - who ran the easiest 1:49.50 you'll ever see in his heat - is the man to beat in the 800.  Last year's Big Ten 800 champion and Big Ten 800 record holder looks ready to defend.  The men's 1500 may prove to be the marquee event of the meet as sub-4:00 milers Robby Creese of Penn State [3:44.93], Andrew Bayer of Indiana [3:45.02] and Chris Fallon of Ohio State [3:46.92] are set to clash in the final.

The women's 100 hurdles are a total wild card as top qualifier Penn States Evonne Britton [13.40] could be upset by nearly any women in the final. In men's 110H, it is more of the same as Illinois' Vanier Joseph [14.04] leads a trio of hurdlers all within .02 seconds.  In the women's 400H, Ohio State's Alexis Franklin leads the way with a solid qualifying mark of 57.46. On the men's side, the nod must go to Michigan's Ali Aristu who tops the finalists with a prelim mark of 50.27.

Several field event highlights are worthy of note.  In the men's long jump,  OSU sensation Mike Hartfield had an off day at the office but still had enough to capture the Big Ten long jump crown.  Hartfield - who earlier this spring leaped 26' 9" [8.15m] to wrest the Buckeye's 77 year old school  record away from  Jesse Owens - still got it out 25' 2¾" [7.68m] to best the field.  

In the men's high jump, Purdue senior and former Big Ten high jump champion Geoff Davis leaped 7'3" [2.21m] to match his Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium high jump record set in 2011.  It was not enough.  Not only did Davis' record-tying effort not only fail to capture the title, it fell short of Indiana's Derek Druid's winning jump of  7'4¼" [2.24m] which gained the title and also established a new venue record.   Later in the day, Druid proved he was human. Ranked as a top Big Ten high hurdler going into the championship weekend, Druid led his 110H heat up to the final barrier.  But the Olympic high jump bronze medalist clobbered the tenth hurdle, destroyed his rhythm, and sauntered home as a non-qualifier - robbing the Hoosiers of certain final day points.

The concluding events of the day were the women's and men's 3000 meter steeplechase.  The races were strikingly similar - both reflecting "the hunter and the hunted" drama.  

In the women's race, Nebraska's Jessica Furlan looked to have a commanding 15 meter lead over Michigan State's Leah O'Connor at the bell.  But with 300 to go, the Spartan started to close the gap as the Husker began to wobble. The race was not over. With superior leg speed, O'Connor caught Furlan at the final water jump.  As O'Connor negotiated the barrier cleanly to race on for the win [9:53.53], a distracted and clearly exhausted Furlan collapsed into the water jump. Drenched, she righted herself and soldiered on.  But one barrier remained - an obstacle she could clear only by stopping and swinging her legs one at a time over the final barrier.  The Nebraska steepler staggered in for 2nd [10:11.05],  barely holding off third place finisher Natalie Bower of Penn State [10:12.42].

In the men's steeple, the same scenario played out again.  But this time, it wasn't the "hunted" who faltered - it was the "hunter."  With two laps remaining, Alex Brill of Wisconsin enjoyed a 4 meter lead.  But Michigan frosh Mason Ferlic was lurking.  The Wolverine closed smartly over the final circuit and - like the women's race - the leader was caught just at the final water jump.  The front-running Badger kept his cool and cleared the barrier neatly.  This time it was the pursuer who met disaster as the closing Ferlic collapsed into the water jump as Brill breezed on for the win in 8:51.51.  Dazed and soaking, Ferlic righted himself and weaved down the final straight.  His rhythm gone, Ferlic was passed by two Hoosiers [Robby Nierman (8:53.71) and Joshua Roche (8:53.80)] and as he slid to 4th (8:54.04).

The team standings suggest a very tight closing competition on Sunday.  On the women's side, Wisconsin's 51 points gives the Badgers a 4 point lead over both Penn State and Nebraska.  While Illinois is 4th with only 31 points, it looks to garner many final day points in the sprints, hurdles, and relays.  For the men, Nebraska's 46.5 points gives the Cornhuskers a slim two point margin over Wisconsin. Team standings after Day Two are not unimportant, but there are so many points at stake during Sunday's final day that any of a number of teams that break it right could step up and surprise.

And so "Moving Day" is complete as the teams have their athletes poised to compete for valuable points during Sunday's closing day.  Without question, is important to be in position to capture the points.  But on the final day, it is imperative to perform at that pinnacle level to earn them.  

~Dave Hunter

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