Sydney McLaughlin floats to the finish to win her first NCAA championship

By Julia Lobaina

Rain or shine, Sydney McLaughlin is on pace for greatness.

The University of Kentucky freshman and 2016 Olympian won her first NCAA championship in the 400-meter hurdles Saturday afternoon at Hayward Field, crossing the finish line at 53.96 seconds.

McLaughlin cruised past her competitors with what seemed to be minimal effort. Her closest competitor, runner-up Anna Cockrell of USC, was nearly two seconds behind with her season-best time of 55.71.

“It wasn’t my cleanest race,” McLaughlin said. “I definitely realized some things going down the backstretch that we’re going to have to adjust.”

Minutes before the race began, the Oregon rain came into full force. Hayward Field just about flooded with heavy rain and hail, but the intensity died down as the race got underway.

Although the weather was not in the athletes’ favor, McLaughlin came prepared to battle in any circumstances. She said she was able to come over the challenges with a change in her training.

“I was kind of mentally all over the place,” she said. “But I think I was able to adjust quite well, and I think it’s going to help me with races where I can’t control the outcome.”

Being able to come out with the win despite the challenges and changes McLaughlin faced was exactly what she was looking for to earn her first NCAA title.

McLaughlin has broken her personal best not once, but twice this outdoor season. At the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, McLaughlin’s race put her .41 seconds away from world record holder Yuliya Nosova-Pechonkina.

Most of McLaughlin’s races aren’t close. The camera often has to pan down the stretch to include the other competitors.

And Saturday’s race wasn’t any different. McLaughlin started in Lane 4 and exploded ahead of her competitors mid-race as if it was all a breeze.

Even though winning has become a formality for the Wildcat, each race brings different nerves, lessons and outcomes that make each race special. She said she takes each race day by day because it’s always a thrill not knowing what’s going to happen.

“I always go into a race with a mindset that anything can happen and anybody can win that day,” McLaughlin said. “It’s about each day waking up and realizing that I have to focus on myself in order to win.”

As she finishes her first year as a collegiate runner, McLaughlin’s times at the University of Kentucky will come to a close as she becomes another “one and done” athlete, a term all too familiar with Kentucky fans.

“This was my last college meet, and that’s definitely the next step that’s going to be happening,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes from there.”

The New Jersey native could’ve turned pro out of high school with sponsors eager to sign her, but she wanted to be a normal college student first.

Prior to McLaughlin’s career and success as a Wildcat, she was one of the most decorated high-school athletes ever. She is a 10-time high school champion, holds the under-20 record at 52.82 and the distance medley relay record at 10:40.31.

As a young athlete, McLaughlin understands the pressures of being the runner on everyone’s radar and having the target on her back because she holds the fastest collegiate record. When she steps on the track, all eyes are on her, wondering if this will be the meet where she breaks the world record of 52.34.

“It’s going to come when it comes, and today definitely wasn’t the day for it regardless if I wanted it to happen or not,” she said. “But once everything comes together, that world record will come.”

Fantastic finish in 4×400 relay gives USC the NCAA team title

By Edward Burnette 

One last time, the “Hayward Magic” that so many fans have loved to speak of ever since the days of Prefontaine delivered yet another sensational end to a track meet.

USC won the 4 x 400-meter relay in a time of 3 minutes, 27.06 seconds this Saturday in Eugene at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship and won the team title by one point over Georgia. Kyra Constantine ran first for USC, with Anna Cockrell, Deanna Hill and Kendall Ellis following in order.

USC needed to win the relay to win the team title. The Trojans entered with 43 points, nine behind Georgia, which had 52 and was not entered in the in the relay, and a victory was worth 10 team points.

After three laps, Purdue and Oregon led the way with USC running in third. Purdue lengthened its lead going into the final exchange as Hill and the anchor, Ellis, struggled to pass off the baton on their first try.

“I passed it off. She didn’t take it the first time,” said Hill. “The second time she put her hand out, I gave it to her. Two stabs and we got it.”

As the crowd collectively rose to its feet, cheering the runners on during the final stretch, Ellis began to close the 10-meter gap. “Coach (Quincy) Watts told me, ‘If there’s a 10-meter gap, you can close it.’ And even if it was 20 meters, it doesn’t matter,” said Ellis. “My goal, in my mind, was to get my team the win.”

Ellis caught Purdue’s anchor, Jahneya Mitchell, within the last five meters to claim the win and the overall title. She ran the final 400 meters in 50.05.

In the final race at both Hayward, and the final race of both Ellis’ and Hill’s collegiate careers, an NCAA championship was the only thing on the runners’ minds.

“It was knowing how close we were to a team title, knowing that if we won the 4×4, we’d win it all,” said Ellis.  “So that was the motivation. This is me and Deanna’s senior year, and we wanted to go out national champions.”

Last year’s 4 x 400 women’s race came down to the final meters as well, with Raevyn Rodgers of Oregon claiming the title and the Triple Crown for Oregon in a collegiate and Hayward Field record of 3:23.12. USC finished in second in 2017, with LSU rounding out the podium.

Even with a less than perfect baton exchange, the USC runners never lost faith in Ellis and their ability to win the title. “I knew she had it,” said Cockrell. “There was no doubt in my mind that Kendall was going to win it.”

The winning relay team slowly jogged its victory lap around Hayward Field as the fans, many of who remained in their seats, cheered on.

“These last two days at Hayward Field, at this version of Hayward field, was all about the Trojans,” said Cockrell.

Keturah Orji wins an NCAA triple jump title for the seventh time

By Bryce Dole

Georgia senior and Olympian Keturah Orji came to Eugene for the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with six consecutive NCAA triple jump titles, indoor and outdoor, under her belt. After her victory in Thursday’s NCAA long jump final, Orji said she was excited and confident in her abilities to put 10 more team points on the board in her final triple jump competition as a Bulldog.

Once again, Orji delivered, earning her seventh collegiate triple jump title with a wind-aided leap of 46 feet, ¾ inches, well ahead of runner-up Yanis David of Florida, who posted a mark of 45-9 1/4.

“It feels really good. I think it just shows work ethic and consistency,” said Orji. “I’m just excited for my future.”

However, the competition did not go exactly to plan. Orji fouled on her first attempt, and then directly before her third, the rain and hail began to downpour. Her coach advised her to save energy for later rounds, and she passed because her second jump qualified her for the final. She took just one more jump, which was a quarter-inch shorter than her winning jump.

“I really wish I wouldn’t have fouled my first jump because then I would have had a lot more confidence,” said Orji. “If my body isn’t warm, then I can’t jump. I know my coach was telling me to pass, but sometimes when I pass so many times, the jumps aren’t that good.”

Multiple other competitors took passes on their attempts as well.

“When it was hailing, everyone in the top four passed their jumps,” said Orji. “The conditions were too dangerous, and it was too cold to jump.”

Orji is now the only woman in NCAA history to have eight individual field event titles. She also has five of the top 10 all-time triple jump marks for American women outdoors and five of the top 10 indoor marks, as well. She attributes her accomplishments to her family, friends and coaches.

“I didn’t think I could accomplish all that coming into college. I knew how competitive it was,” said Orji. “I have so much support, so it’s been a big blessing to accomplish what I have here at Georgia. I’m definitely going to miss it.”

Orji’s personal best of 48-3 ¼ was an American record earned at the Rio Olympics in 2016. This record has since been broken by Oiselle athlete Tori Franklin, who jumped 48-8 ¼ at last month’s Meeting de Guadeloupe.

After an injury-ridden season that caused her to watch the 2017 world championships from the sideline, Orji is looking forward to regaining the fitness that has taken her over 48 feet in the past.

“I definitely want to break the American record again because I lost it,” said Orji. “I also want to make the world championship team and hopefully medal at either the world championships or the Olympics.”

Freshman Sammy Watson Upsets Favorite Sabrina Southerland to win 800 meters

By Jenny Sanchez

EUGENE, Oregon – Inching to the front in the final 50 meters, Texas A&M freshman Sammy Watson won her first NCAA title in the 800 meters on a wet Saturday at the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field, upsetting form-chart favorite Sabrina Southerland of Oregon.

Watson finished with a time of 2 minutes, 4.21 seconds to beat second-place finisher Abike Egbeniyi from Middle Tennessee State by 0.12 second.

“It’s crazy,” said Watson. “It’s nice knowing all the hard work paid off with all the trials, the tough workouts and the doubt. It meant something, and it came to something.”

Up until the break to the rail coming around the final turn, Watson was behind Egbeniyi, who had led the pack for the majority of the race, spreading out the runners of the group. Through 700 meters leading up to the finish line, the Aggie runner continued to pump her arms to give it her all without the thought of panicking.

Inching closer to the pack leader, Watson told herself, “Just pump your arms and don’t panic. You’re built for this. You trained for this moment.”

Looking up and taking a glance to the big screen, Watson squeezed past the Middle Tennessee runner, dipped at the finish line and fell to the ground.

“The times I spent to train for this moment mean that much more to me,” said Watson, who grew up in Rochester, New York. “I feel like I gave it my all in this college experience to race with some girls on my level and better. Willing to work through a race and work through a pack and stay relaxed …. that has been worked on this year to get to today.”

This finished a stretch of successful races for Watson in her first collegiate season. At the Reveille Invitational in December, she posted a time of 2:42.12 in the 1,000 meters, which ranks seventh on the collegiate indoor all-time list and bettered the Texas A&M school record of 2:43.12 set last season by teammate Jasmine Fray.

With her first collegiate season with the Aggies in the books, the 18-year-old freshman came into the race eager to win the title before the thought of going pro.

Watson’s decision to go to college, it seems, was a wager worth making.

“I wanted this bad since September,” said Watson. “Hopefully there are more stories that I can tell in the next couple of years to do better and be better, but I did want to put this on my resume. I do not have any regrets on not going pro because I knew I can do that later.”

Oregon’s Southerland was the favorite coming in to the final on Saturday, but she finished seventh in 2:06.99.

“I’m not going to let this one race define me,” she said. “And I feel like it does not reflect who I am as a runner or a as a person. It is pretty disheartening to have this outcome, but this isn’t the end.”

Oregon’s Jessica Hull wins 1,500-meter title with a huge PR

By Mark Wang

Oregon’s Jessica Hull became the first Oregon woman to win the 1,500-meter NCAA title since Claudette Groenendaal in 1984 on Saturday at Hayward Field, winning the race in a personal record 4 minutes, 8.75 seconds.

Hull crossed the line with a huge smile on her face, arms thrown in the air with the Hayward Field crowd cheering.

“That was so special,” she said. “That was amazing.”

Hull was in contention for the entire race, and she broke away toward the end to take the title, which turned out to be the Ducks’ only individual title of the meet.

“I think I was very focused very early on, and then coming into 200 to go it got really loud at the end of the grandstand,” she said. “I kept waiting for someone to come up on the outside. I took a quick glance (at the screen), and at that point I was like, ‘Let this crowd bring you home.'”

Hull fell in love with Hayward when she competed here as a member of Australia’s team at the IAAF world championships in 2014. “I was unknown to the American crowd,” she said, “but I felt like I had their love and support from the very start.”

NCAA championships: What happened on Day Three

By Chiann Nobrega

On Day Three of the NCAA Championships, our SOJC Track class produced seven stories, five for professional news outlets. Check out the stories below about the Friday events.

Alex Castle worked for The Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, to cover the exciting moment when Penn State junior Isaiah Harris won the men’s 800-meter NCAA title.

Long jumper Tejaswin Shankar, a freshman from Kansas State, became the third athlete from India to win a Division I title. Jake Willard had the story for DyeStat. 

Chiann Nobrega wrote for 406 Montana Sports to cover two Montana natives: Zach Perrin, who ran the men’s 5,000, and discus thrower Kyle Douglass.

Writing for the The Press and Dakotan in Yankton, S.D., SOJC track alumna Sierra Webster covered discus thrower Ben Hammer and high-jumper Zack Anderson, both from the University of South Dakota.

And f the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Nate Mann wrote an advance story about Harvard’s Gabby Thomas, who will be going for an NCAA title in the 200 meters on Saturday.

We also wrote for our website:

Melissa Ingabire covered the men’s 400-meter event–specifically, USC sophomore Michael Norman, who won the title in a time that broke the NCAA meet and facility records.

And Oregon distance runner Sam Prakel competed in his last event as an Oregon Duck. Collin Catman had the story.

USC’s Michael Norman dazzles at NCAAs with two record-setting performances

By Melissa Ingabire 

In the NCAA championship 400-meter final Friday evening at Hayward Field, USC sophomore sprinter Michael Norman broke the collegiate and facility and world records for the event with a winning time of 43.61, the fastest time in the world this year.

The previous NCAA meet record holder? Olympic gold medalist Quincy Watts, who ran 44.00 in 1992. The previous Hayward Field record holder? Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, who ran 43.74 in 1993.

An hour and 20 minutes later, Norman anchored USC’s winning 4×400 meter relay team that also set the collegiate, facility, meet and school record in 2:59:00.

Norman placed fourth last in year in the 400 and knew coming in it was going to be a challenge. Even with his record-setting performance, he still had company all the way to the end. He beat Auburn sophomore Akeem Bloomfield, who finished second in 43.94.

“Coming into the race the fields are so deep, I knew it was going to be hard,” he said. “But I think it’s them that elevate me to the next level. We really worked off each other.” 

He brought that same energy into the 4×400 and elevated his teammates. With the win, USC collected its third collegiate record of the day and capped a fourth-place finish in the team race.

The California native posted on his Instagram account a photo of the 4×400 team and captioned it “One last ride with my brothers. #TheFinalChapter.”

When asked if this was him hinting at starting his professional career, he said, “Well, actually I meant the last time I run a 4×400. But hey — if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll see where it takes me.”

Norman is the latest in a string of strong USC 400-meter runners. The school has produced the likes of Allyson Felix, Watts and Don Quarrie. 

Not to mention, he has running in his blood. His mother, Nobue Saito, at one time was the fastest middle school 100-meter runner, and his father, Michael, also ran the quarter mile at Los Angeles Valley College, where he met Saito.

Norman has overcome a lot to get to this point, battling shin splints, a sprained hamstring and an increased workload at USC during his freshman year. But he proved it was all a minor setback. With a personalized plan, he is back to healthy and he said moving forward his only plan is to keep it that way. 

“Right now I’m taking it day by day but yeah — ultimately I want to go to the Olympics,” said Norman. A debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be extra special for the sprinter because he has yet to visit his mother’s birthplace of Japan.


Oregon’s Sam Prakel finishes sixth in physical 1,500 meters

By Collin Catman

Friday marked the last day of men’s competition in the NCAA Track and Field Championships. It  also marked the last day Sam Prakel wore a University of Oregon singlet.

The distance runner closed his accomplished career at the UO with a sixth-place finish in the 1,500 meters, a race as physical and tactical as it gets.

So physical that Prakel’s teammate, walk-on Mick Stanovsek, stumbled on the first 150 of the race. It was a stumble that he simply could not recover from.

“Got jarred up in that first 150 and kinda hard to shake that off,” Stanovsek said. “You can chalk it up to inexperience or just no one being able to run well in that sort of field. Obviously massive disappointment.”

Prakel finished in 3 minutes, 45.73 seconds, about a second behind winner Ollie Hoare of Wisconsin, who won in 3:44.77. Stanovsek finished 12th in 3:56.12, well off the pace.

But the redshirt sophomore has much to be proud of. After being left off the Oregon cross country team in 2015-16, Stanovsek has been improving every year. Last outdoor season Stanovsek made it all the way to the NCAA West Regionals in the 1,500, and this year he made it all the way to the NCAA finals.

Oregon will need this continued improvement from Stanovsek, as Prakel ran his last race in the green and yellow.

A four-time All-American and Pac-12 champion in the 1,500, Prakel leaves the UO accomplished both on and off the track. He was a six-time first-team Pac-12 All-Academic team member, four times in cross country and two times in track.

The physicality of the race was rare, forcing all of the runners to change their tactics. Prior to the race, New Mexico junior Josh Kerr proclaimed he was going for the collegiate record, but he finished third. No one was safe in the wet and competitive conditions at Hayward.

Though the end result may not have been what he wanted, Prakel was able to identify areas of his game that he needs to work on, specifically against the top runners in the United States.

“The whole season I’ve been confident in my moves,” he said. “Maybe racing against guys like (Kerr) I changed things up a little too much today. A race like this keeps me hungry, and I’ll be back for sure.”

Not only was this Prakel’s last time running for the Ducks, but it was also his last time running at Hayward Field.

“It’s not a bad way to go out, you know — I got to run in front of an incredible crowd one last time,” he said. “I’m sure all the emotions will hit me in a bit once I realize this is the last time I will be wearing the Oregon uniform and running at historic Hayward Field.”

Prakel will only have so much time to think about his collegiate career, as he will be running in professionally quite soon.

“I’ll be running USAs in a couple weeks and then continuing to run professionally and aiming for the 2020 (Olympic) trials,” he said. “I think I’m pretty well set up for that.”



NCAA Championships: What Happened on Day Two

By Chiann Nobrega

The SOJC Track Bureau published 10 stories, six of them for professional news organizations, on Day Two of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Here’s an overview of events on Thursday, the first day of women’s competition.

The University of South Dakota is a strong pole vaulting school, and that’s reflected in our coverage. Helen Falda earned second-team All-America honors in the women’s event on Thursday, and Chris Nilsen was the men’s champion on Wednesday. We covered them both for The Press and Dakotan in Yankton, S.D. Shawn Medow wrote about Falda, and Alex Castle did a follow-up story on Nilsen.

Jenny Sanchez covered the long jump for WyoSports, where she wrote about Wyoming junior Ja’la Henderson and her quest to become the first female Wyoming jumper to earn All-America honors in decades.

Nate Mann worked for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass., covering Gabrielle Thomas of Harvard, who was the top qualifier in the 200.

Working for 406 Montana Sports, Brenten Kelly wrote about four Montana natives: Makena Morley, Christina Aragon, Sadi Henderson and Amanda Jaynes. Kelly also wrote for the track website DyeStat, covering Ole Miss senior Janeah Stewart, who won the women’s hammer throw.

We also wrote for our website:

Mark Wang covered the women’s 10,000 meters, where Kansas Junior Sharon Lokedi won her first NCAA championship and broke a 30-year-old NCAA meet record.

Standford’s Mackenzie Little not only won the women’s javelin event, but also set a personal record. Allan Johnstone had the story.

Bryce Dole covered the exciting moment when three-time NCAA triple jump champion and American record holder Keturah Orji of Georgia finally grasped the top spot in the women’s long jump.

Edward Burnette covered one of the NCAA’s premier throwers, Arizona State’s Maggie Ewen, who won the shot put.

And we went international, too. On Wednesday, Melissa Ingabire covered Anderson Peters, a freshman at Mississippi State, who made his NCAA debut and won the men’s javelin after breaking a meet record. He’s from Grenada, and her story was picked up by GrenadaSports, an international sports website located in the country.



Sharon Lokedi runs meet record in the 10,000 and takes her first NCAA title

By Mark Wang

On a track that is known for many great distance races, the women’s 10,000 meters Thursday evening at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships didn’t disappoint. Sharon Lokedi of Kansas won in a time of 32 minutes, 9.20 seconds at Hayward Field.

Not only was this Lokedi’s first NCAA championship, but she also broke by 19 seconds the 30-year-old NCAA meet record of 32:28.57, which was held by Sylvia Mosqueda. Lokedi said she felt “pure joy” as she crossed the line.

“It’s been a long time —  I’ve worked for it for so many years,” she said. “I had all the emotions that you can just imagine.”

Lokedi beat runner-up Dorcas Wasike, a Louisville freshman, by more than two and a half seconds. The top six finishers all surpassed the previous meet record.

It was an emotional moment for Lokedi even as she did media interviews after the race. She smiled as she said multiple times that she couldn’t believe that she was a champion.

This was also the last season of outdoor eligibility for the Kansas junior, and she was happy to get the win in her last outdoor collegiate race.  

Lokedi said her strategy was to “go out there and put it all out on the track,” and she said her coach told her to stay calm and relaxed, and if she saw a chance to go.

She then kept up with the lead group and covered the moves during the race. A group of about eight runners broke away from the main pack with around 17 laps to go, and then that group began to jostle for position as the race continued.

The race had a lot of lead changes toward the end, and with about 600 meters left, Lokedi surged to the lead to get ahead of Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer. At that point, she said afterward, she thought she might win. And she did.

Lokedi will now focus on getting ready for her last collegiate seasons of cross country and indoor track in the fall and winter.   

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