David Hunter covered the 2022 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, as he has done for much of the last decade, for RunBlogRun. Each day, David would send an article, our first post of the day. We would then follow up with the SOJC individual pieces.
And that is how we will end our coverage of the NCAA Championships, a tremendous confirmation of the high level of competition and fitness among the finest college and university teams in the nation.
We also heard many good things about the TV coverage on ESPN, kudos to Dwight Stones and Dan O’Brien, and Robert Griffin III was given kudos for his respect for track & field athletes.
But thanks to David, who weathered a difficult day of travel back to the Midwest, and this piece on the final day of the NCAA Champs, where the Lady Gators cemented their title, and Florida went home with both championships, is, well, inspiring!
Abby Steiner took 3rd in the 100m, won the 200m in WL (21.80) and anchored Kentucky to the 4x400m title! Who said 100/200 can’t run the 400m? photo by Cierra Hitner
NCAA / Day Four: Florida Gators Run The Team Title Table
Shining Moments Abound
Coming on the heels of the men’s terrific finals the day before, the NCAA women were given center stage to show what they could do on the concluding day of the 100th anniversary NCAA collegiate outdoor track & field championships. And they didn’t disappoint.
w4x100M Relay: The lead-off track event on Day Four was the short relay. The nine talented finalists featured 5 quartets who raced sub-43 in the opening round to advance to the final. Kentucky looked strong early. bolstered by a scintillating 2nd leg by Abby Steiner. A speedy curve by Oregon’s Jasmin Reed pushed the Ducks forward as the partisan crowd roared its approval. But on the homestretch, Texas anchor Kynnedy Flannel closed with a vengeance to lift the Longhorns (42.42) to victory. Kentucky (42.45) was a close 2nd as Oregon (42.64) hung on for 3rd.
w1500M: Not surprisingly, the 12 finalists started off with a cautious pace as Arkansas senior Krissy Gear led the bunched pack through 400 meters in 66 seconds. Gear, 5th in last year’s championship final, continued the leadership role, crossing 800 meters in 2:16. The leading finalist’s Gear, Stanford’s Julia Heymach, Ole Miss athlete Sintayehu Vissa, and Colorado’s Michaela Degenero were bunched at the bell (3:07) as the real racing got underway. With 200 meters remaining, the duo of Vissa and Degenero pulled away. The duo engaged in a tight duel on the homestretch as Vissa (4:09.42) prevailed with Degenero a close 2nd in 4:09.62. Stanford senior Christina Aragon (4:10.00) – in her 4th NCAA championship 1500m final – closed hard to get up for 3rd. The new champion raced the final lap in 61.91.
w3000MSC: BYU senior Courtney Wayment – with the leading collegiate clocking in this event at 9:26.88 – was the undeniable favorite going into the Day Four final. But there might not have been many who suspected a Wayment-winning performance would be so spectacular. Bolting into the lead after the starting gun, the BYU veteran immediately grabbed control of the race. She was joined by Auburn senior Joyce Kimeli as the duo set the early pace. Wayment slowly began building a lead with 5 laps remaining. With 4 laps to go and the BYU athlete having stretched her lead to 10 meters, Yale junior Kayley DeLay took up the chase. It was to no avail as Wayment, the reigning indoor 5000-meter champion, kept increasing her pace and the lead. Unchallenged over the final laps, Wayment pressed on for the victory. Her winning time of 9:16.00 demolished the 6-year-old collegiate record set by Courtney Frerichs, a silver medalist in this event in both the Olympics and the World Championship, and the current American record holder in this event. Waynent’s stunning finishing time is a personal best, a collegiate leader, a meet record, a new collegiate record, currently ranks as #8 on the world list, and makes Weyment the 5th fastest American all-time. Delay, the Yalie, finished 2nd in 9:25.08, making her the 3rd fastest collegian ever in this event. West Virginia’s Ceili McCabe finished 3rd in 9:31.14.
w100H: In an event that tolerates no margin for error, the 9 finalists in the women’s 110-meter hurdles faced an even more difficult final showdown when, just prior to this event, a steady rain slipped across Hayward Field leaving a slickened surface on the track. Unfazed by it all was LSU sophomore, Alia Armstrong. The 2021 Olympic finalist in this event was unfazed by the meteorological curve ball and raced on to a wire-to-wire victory in 12.57. Texas Tech junior Demisha Roswell was 2nd in 12.66 while Texas A&M senior Kaylah Robinson got up for 3rd.
w100M: The final of the 100-meter dash was a highly-anticipated event as 5 of the 9 finalists had rung up sub-11.00 performances in the preliminary round. Those semi-final times constituted 5 of the 10 fastest clockings ever run in an NCAA championship. With the track surface still perilously slick, the times in the final were slightly off. But the race itself was nonetheless electrifying as Texas sophomore Julien Alfred ecked out a photo-finish win in 11.014 with Oregon senior Kemba Nelson (11.020) .006 seconds back in 2nd. Kentucky junior Abby Steiner finished 3rd in 11.08.
w400M: Another deep field competed in the championship race of the women’s 400 meters as 6 of the 9 finalists posted semi-final times under 51 seconds. The championship field had to race 51.62 or faster to make the final. Florida sophomore Talitha Diggs garnered 10 big points for the Lady Gators running solid throughout and exhibiting unmatched homestretch power to capture the crown in a personal best time of 49.99. Last year’s runner-up is this year’s champion! Texas A&M upstart Charokee Young crossed next in 50.65, with Texas junior Kennedy Simon 3rd in 50.69 followed by Alexis Holmes finishing 4th in a personal best of 50.71.
w800M: Often a tactical event, the final of the women’s 800 was an honest-paced contest from the crack of the pistol. Baylor senior Aaliyah Miller immediately charged to the front sending a clear message that this championship final would be 800 meters of honest racing. Miller crossed 200m in 27.5 and was 57.61 at the bell. Pre-race favorite Kristie Schoffield was well-positioned half a stride behind the early leader at the bell. Miller, the Boise State favorite, finally took the lead entering the homestretch and was unchallenged as she raced through the line in 2:01.09. A late move by Villanova senior McKenna Keegan (2:01.71) lifted her into 2nd while Oklahoma State frosh Gabija Galvydyte (2:01.76) was a close 3rd. Early pacesetter Miller, out of gas, finished 7th in 2:03.05.
w400H: As the hurdles were being placed for the 400m hurdles final, all eyes were on Florida sophomore Anna Hall. Hall had spent the last two days competing in the heptathlon, was in the lead, and was threatening to set a new NCAA record in the 7-event competition. The versatile Florida athlete would be defending her 2021 400m hurdle title just 16 minutes before toeing the line to compete in the multi’s final event: the 800 meter run. In the hurdle final, Hall started well, but so did Arkansas sophomore Britton Wilson who raced on for the victory in 53.86. Hall (54.76) finished 2nd in 54.76 before heading over to lace up for her final heptathlon event. And Duke senior Laura Hoffman grabbed 3rd in 55.58.
w200M: In another display of broad depth, all nine 200m competitors clocked 22.66 or better to earn the right to compete in the 200 meter championship race. 3 of the finalists were Tokyo Olympians last summer. Aided by a terrific start and a skillful curve, Kentucky’s Abby Steiner, employing her speed-driven turn-over and her unique arm carriage, simply ran away from the field, easily crossing the finish line first. Steiner’s jaw-dropping winning time of 21.80 earned her crown and set a new collegiate record which is currently #1 in the world and #8 on the all-time USA list.
Heptathlon Conclusion: Anna Hall was spectacular, scoring 2 personal bests and 2 seasons’ bests in the 7-event competition, ringing up 6385 points to take the victory. Washington junior Ida Eikeng (5939) took 2nd while Duke Senior Erin Marsh (5929) finished a close 3rd.
w5000M: North Carolina State sophomore Katelyn Tuohy was viewed by many as the favorite heading into the 5000 meter final. The Wolfpack set a special record with Tuohy and 4 of her teammates competing in the 24-athlete field. Tuohy was all business as the race got underway – spurting into the early lead and followed by Florida frosh Parker Valby, Alabama junior Mercy Chelangat, the 10,000-meter champion two days earlier, and Colorado senior Abby Nichols. What followed was a metronome-like cadence of 3:08 per kilometer as the field paced itself for the real racing to follow. Valby – the spunky freshman Gator – purposefully stayed close to Tuohy lap after lap before boldly taking the lead with 1200 meters remaining. Valby’s move dropped the race cadence to 3:00/kilo as the young Gator and the following Tuohy broke away. With 600m remaining, Tuohy made a decisive move covering the penultimate lap in 69.1 and following that with a final circuit in 69.3. Tuohy, the indoor runner-up at 5000 and 3000 earlier in the year, finally earned her top-step podium position, crossing the line in 15:18.39, Valby hung on to finish 2nd in 15:20.10. Oklahoma State senior Taylor Roe (15:24.41) closed effectively over the final kilos for 3rd as Chelangat grabbed 4th in 15:24.54.
w4x440 Relay: There is a reason the 4×4 has earned its rightful place as the closing event at virtually all major track & field gatherings. Quite simply, the race is electrifying. And the women’s 4×4 to close the 2022 NCAA Championships displayed the best version of this special event, offering a 9-school field that included 7 of the top 9 4×4 squads in the world. As the gun fired, Kentucky got off to a quick start with Texas in close pursuit. In the second leg, South Carolina pushed into the lead, with Texas and Kentucky close behind. But as the third leg got underway, the roaring crowd witnessed perhaps the most stunning performance of the meet as Kentucky’s Abby Steiner, who had earlier placed 3rd in the 100m and won the 200m in a world-leading time, exploded on the backstretch, her 3rd leg clocking of 48.92 moving the Wildcats back into the lead for good. With Alexis Holmes on the anchor for Blue Nation, the Wildcats rang up a winning time of 3:22.55 – the #2 all-time NCAA performance. Texas finished 2nd in 3:23.35, with Arkansas 3rd in 323.69.
With a robust team scoring a total of 74, the Florida Gator women joined the Gainesville men – who clinched the men’s team title the night before – in a clean sweep of the team titles – the first in Florida’s history. With athletes from both the men’s and women’s programs surrounding him on the infield, Gator head coach Mike Holloway – completing his 20th year at the helm of Florida’s track & field program – humbly accepted the second winners’ trophy in two days and raised the newest trophy aloft while his jubilant Florida athletes broke into a celebratory rhythmic chant concluding with – of course – a closing, signature Gator chomp.