NCAA Division I Champs
Day Four–Women’s Finals
Saturday June 13
Sunny, 77 degrees, strong gust of wind.
By Roy Stevenson
With the final day of the NCAA Champs a women’s events only program, there were those who believed that an absence of testosterone would render the women’s finals a second-rate affair. Attendance would be down, the doomsayers said. They needn’t have worried. Saturday’s attendance was 11,734, the highest of the four days. And, in this writer’s opinion, the women’s finals outshone the men’s finals by a long way.
Every woman’s race was honestly run and fiercely contested. I’m sorry that I can’t say the same about some of the men’s distance finals where we saw too many jog-and-kick tactics in the distance races. Jog-and-kick races may be exciting over the final 400m, but they take the punch out of the race because we know the early pace did not test the runners. They’re fun at the time, but ultimately unsatisfying, like eating low-calorie ice cream or drinking decaffeinated coffee (I can say that because I’m from Seattle).
Women’ s 100m Final
Oregon favorite Jenna Prandini, and Morolake Akinosun (Texas) and Alaayiha Brown (Texas A&M) were neck and neck from the 30m mark, with Prandini leaning at the tape to win by a scant .01 in 10.96 to Akinosun’s 10.97. Dezera Bryant (Kentucky) sneaked into 3rd in 11.01 from a fading Brown, who would finish 5th, after also being pipped by Ky Westbrook (USC) for 4th.
With Oregon winning 3 of the last 4 100m finals, Oregon has established itself as a respectable sprint school, to add to its formidable distance reputation.
Said an elated Prandini, “To come out and win the 100 has always been one of my goals and one of my dreams, so to do it was pretty awesome”. Of her fast closing speed, “My coach just said as long as I’m within striking distance to just trust in my race plan and trust that on those last 80 meters my top-end speed could catch them”.
Women’s 200m Final
As Jenna Prandini–who had just taken the 100m an hour earlier–lined up for the 200m final, the Oregon crowd held their breath, hoping that Prandini’s previous long jumps (2nd place) and 100m (1st place) had not sapped her strength enough to take the sting out of her 200m.
The first four finishers, Dezerea Bryant (Kentucky), Prandini, Kamaria Brown (Texas A&M), and Kyra Jefferson (Florida) were in a straight line as they came off the curve. No quarter was given down the home straight as they battled it out with Bryant prevailing in 22.18 from a struggling Prandini (22.21). Brown was a yard behind in 22.24, with Jefferson clocking the same time for 4th place.
Bryant was Kentucky’s first winner in this event, and Brown’s 3rd place continued Kentucky’s string of placing a top three finisher in the past 9 years. Said Bryant afterwards, “Coming into this meet we already had a pretty good idea of what we could accomplish, so just going out there and doing it was out main focus”.
Women’s 100m Hurdles Final
Winner and fastest hurdler in the semis, Kendra Harrison (Kentucky) was the clear pre-race favorite. Harrison started moving away from the rest of the field from the 50m mark, and won by a lot of daylight, in a rapid 12.55, still going away from the field in a perfect display of technical hurdling. RunBlogRun predicts that Harrison will go all the way to the top–remember, you read it here first.
Cindy Ofili (Michigan), in lane 3 was pulled through by Harrison, and moved slowly away from the rest of the field, but was always two paces behind Harrison, for a silver medal in 12.60. Dior Hall (USC), running in lane 1, gathered the bronze medal in a solid 12.74, establishing U.S and world junior records.
The first three finished in lifetime bests. Harrison is Kentucky’s first winner in this event and is now the 3rd fastest hurdler in NCAA meet history. She also second in the 400m hurdles. Harrison summed up her hurdling career with, “It’s really amazing. My freshman year I struggled a lot, but coming in as a senior, my confidence was really high and now I’m proud”.
Women’s 400m Final
Based on the semi-finals we predicted that this race would be too close to call, and we were right! Practically the entire field was spread out in a straight line as they came out of the final curve into the home straight, with 90m to go. The crowd went wild, as they watched this race unfold down the straight.
Florida State’s surprise of the day, Kala Funderburk, dipped at the line to deliver a 51.67 win from Texas’s Kendall Baisden, second in 51.74. Funderburk barely qualified for the final. Third was Daye Shon Roberson (Oklahoma) in the same time as Baisden. Ashley Spencer (Texas) winner of the 2012 and 2013 NCAA 400m, was never really in the race, finishing 7th in 52.65.
Funderbunk is FSU’s third winner in this event. Said Funderburk of her race, “Coming from lane 8 I knew I was running blind so I didn’t have to worry about anyone–just execute how you plan to execute, and it worked”. Times were the slowest since 1996, due to the strong gusting winds.
Women’s 800m Final
Clemson’s Natoya Goule boldly tried to steal the show with a blistering 56.17 first lap, opening a 10-meter gap over Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers at the bell. That Goule would pay for her fast early pace sins was beyond doubt, but what was amazing is how she managed to hold it together until half way along the back straight when Rogers challenged her.
Ultimately, Goule would fade to 7th, and Rogers would maintain an unchallenged pace off the curve and down the home straight to the finish to win in 1:59.71. Stanford’s Claudia Saunders would power through nicely into 2nd place in 2:00.63, and Virginia Teach’s Hanna Green, always lurking in 3rd, earned a well earned bronze medal in 2:01.17.
Rogers is the first freshman to win this event since Oregon’s Rebekah Noble in 2006. Oregon has five titles in this event, and placed in 10 of the past 11 years in this event. Said freshman Rogers of her win, “It feels amazing. I’m so blessed to bea a part of this team and to have these great coaches and supporters. Everything has been great”.
Women’s 1500m Final
There’s an old adage in the middle distances that “Whoever leads at the bell, does not lead at the finish”. This held true for defending champion Shelby Houlihan (Arizona State) who gamely set the pace for the first three laps of the metric mile.
Rhianwedd Price (Miss State) capitalized on Houlihan’s pacemaking and squeezed past Houlihan down the home straight to win in 4:09.56 to Houlihan’s second placing 4:09.67. Sara Sutherland led the rest of the field, a considerable distance behind the two leaders, in third place in 4:13.48.
Houlihan has been a convert to front running after taking a spill in a previous race, but after this race may have to adjust her race strategy according to her competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.
Price’s time is the 7th fastest in meet history and Houlihan’s is number 8. This was the race’s second closest margin-of-victory (.09 seconds) after Wisconsin’s Suzy Favor’s .07 margin in 1987.
Said Price after the race, “I made a move at 200 to go and she (Houlihan) covered it straight away, so I thought that was going to be my big move to go past her, and when it didn’t happen I thought maybe it was over. But with 100 meters to go I just tried to kick again and I saw that I was closing and I knew I could do this”.