By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Baylor track and field's travel party to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA Outdoor Championships got a lot bigger Saturday at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds.
Nearly doubling last year's entries, the Bears qualified 21 athletes in 17 events for the national semifinals that begin June 7 at historic Hayward Field in Eugene. That's the second-most for the team since the NCAA changed to the two-region qualifying system in 2010 and eight more entries than last year's total.
"This meet's not easy. There's a lot of casualties along the way," coach Todd Harbour said of the NCAA West meet that was held at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas. "And we survived. We survived and advanced. . . . We had a few close misses, we had a few disappointments along the way. And that's always tough. But overall, just an outstanding weekend."
Sophomore sprinter Taylor Bennett will be particularly busy in Eugene, qualifying in four events. After barely making it through in the 100 meters on Friday with the last qualifying time at 11.28, she was ninth overall in the 200 with a 22.89 clocking and also ran legs on the 4x100 and 4x400 relays that moved on with times of 44.56 and 3:30.62, respectively.
"It's awesome just to be able to qualify in that many events," said Bennett, who made it to Eugene last year in only the 4x400. "It was kind of a mental challenge, just getting through the rounds and pushing through the 4x400 at the end, because my body was super tired. I'm happy I qualified in four events, because that is a lot, and a lot of people don't have that chance and that blessing and opportunity."
Freshman Maxwell Wills was only slightly less busy on Saturday, being held out of the 4x400 relay, but he could add that at the NCAA Championships.
After a 10.10 clocking in the 100 meters on Friday, he ran a blistering 20.22 time to win his heat and place third overall in the 200, then ran the second leg on the 4x100 relay that held on for the last qualifying spot at 39.62.
"The mental game was playing with me a little bit. I was kind of doubting myself a little bit, which is really bad," said Willis, who joined Malik Wilson, Antwuan Musgrove and Ian Braxton on the relay. "At the end of the day, I fought against it. I came out here and gave a good 100, I gave an outstanding 200, but there's a lot more that I can fix in the future that I have to, in order to do what I want to do in Oregon."
On the women's 4x100 relay, freshman Raegan Padgett from the soccer team replaced injured sophomore Kiana Horton and ran the leadoff leg. The foursome of Padgett, Bennett, junior Juanita Mainoo and freshman Jhane' King placed fourth in their heat and 11th overall in 44.56.
"All four relays did an outstanding job," Harbour said. "We had to make a couple replacements, and those young ones stepped up and did a super job. I'm really proud of them."
There was far less drama in the closing 4x400. The women's relay of freshman Victoria Powell, junior Kiana Hawn, Bennett and junior anchor Leticia De Souza placed second in its heat to qualify automatically with a time of 3:30.62 that ranks as the fifth-fastest in program history and the fifth-best time in Saturday's quarterfinal round.
If you want to talk about automatic, the Baylor men's 4x400 relay qualified for the NCAA Championships for the 38th consecutive year by winning its heat and posting the third-fastest time overall at 3:03.33.
Junior wide receiver Chris Platt from the football team ran 46.90 on the leadoff leg, followed by sophomores Wil London (44.43) and Caleb Dickson (46.72), keeping the Bears within five meters of Arkansas. And then, senior George Caddick ran a 45.07 anchor leg and passed the Razorbacks in the last 100 meters.
London and Caddick both advanced in the open 400 meters on Friday as well, running career-best times of 45.02 and 45.45, respectively.
The field events provided the most drama of the day, with three of the four Baylor athletes advancing on their final attempts.
After not advancing in the discus, senior Cion Hicks was 13th in the shot put going into her final attempt, moving up with a toss of 52 feet, 6 inches to place 11th and qualify for the NCAA Championships for the third straight year.
Felix Obi, competing in the triple jump for the first time since breaking his own school record at the Texas Relays on March 31, was in even more dire straits at 26th place going into his final attempt. But, the national leader in the event went 53-0 on his third jump to move all the way up to eighth and qualify for the third straight year.
"Our jumpers had an amazing weekend," Harbour said. "Felix hadn't jumped since Texas Relays. To see him be able to pull out a big jump on his last jump, man, that brought tears to your eyes."
Brianna Richardson, who sat out last year with an injury, also made it back to Eugene for the third time. She had a solid series with three jumps over 43 feet and placed seventh overall at 43-7.
Like Obi, fellow senior triple jumper Rachel Toliver had a much more stressful day. She fouled on her first attempt and went 40-9 ½ on her second jump to rank 33rd among the 47 competitors going into the third round. But, she unleashed a best of 44-2 to move all the way up to third and give Baylor three triple jumpers at the NCAA Championships.
"Overall, across the board, it was just a fantastic weekend for us," Harbour said. "Maxwell and Taylor both qualifying in the 100 and 200. I thought Wil and George were outstanding in the quarter. And, of course, Annie (Rhodes) made the vault look pretty easy on Thursday opening it up for us."
AUSTIN, Texas - The Baylor track and field team will have 21 student-athletes representing it with 17 entries into the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships, after qualifying 10 more entries on the final day of the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds at Mike A. Myers Stadium Saturday.
Over the course of three days of competition in Austin, Baylor got four relay teams and 12 individual entries through to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., June 7-10. Coming into the meet the Bears already had heptathlete Jenna Pfeiffer qualified for the national event.
Baylor's 17 total entries are the second-most in program history, since the NCAA went to the two-region qualifying format in 2010. BU's best-ever total of 18 entries came in 2014. For comparison, the Bears only had nine entries a season ago.
The BU women will have 10 entries (8 individual & 2 relays), while the men have a total of seven (5 individual & 2 relays).
On Saturday in the running events, qualifiers gained automatic entry by finishing top three in a heat or in the next three fastest times.
For the 38th-straight year, the men's 4x400-meter relay will be at the national outdoor championship. To close out the night, Chris Platt, Wil London, Caleb Dickson and George Caddick turned in a time of 3:03.33 to win the second heat and take third overall. It was the first time that BU used Platt as the leadoff leg and the first time that the Bears used those four athletes in the race together. However, Platt (46.90) had the Bears second at the first exchange and London (44.43) pulled BU even with Arkansas at the third exchange. Dickson (46.72) kept the Bears within five meters of the Razorbacks, which allowed Caddick (45.07) to close strong and take the heat win over the final 100 meters.
In the women's 4x400-meter relay event, Victoria Powell, Kiana Hawn, Taylor Bennett and Leticia De Souza used the fifth-fastest time in school history (3:30.62) to finish second in their heat and automatically qualify for Eugene with the fifth-fastest time overall. The Lady Bears spent the majority of the race in second with splits of 53.6, 52.5, 52.2 and 51.9 keeping BU near the lead throughout.
Running in the third heat of the women's 4x100-meter relay, Raegan Padgett, Taylor Bennett, Juanita Mainoo and Jhane' King, placed fourth with a time of 44.56. Originally, that mark was the 12th and final qualifier to Eugene, but after a disqualification BU moved up to the 11th-fastest mark to advance. It was Padgett's first time to run on the 4x1 relay.
The men's 4x100-meter was even closer to missing out on advancing than the women. Malik Wilson, Maxwell Willis, Antwuan Musgrove and Ian Braxton produced a time of 39.62 to finish fourth in the opening heat. The Bears were then forced to wait through two more heats to see if the time held up as one of the three fastest outside of the automatic qualifiers. In the end, the Bears were the 12th and final qualifier to Eugene, advancing over 13th-place BYU (39.70) by .08 seconds.
After both qualifying in the 100 meters on Friday, Taylor Bennett and Maxwell Willis both secured spots at the national meet in the 200 meters as well on Saturday. First, Bennett comfortably ran a 22.89 to finish third in the opening heat and automatically advance with the ninth-fastest time on the day.
Moments later, Maxwell Willis blew away the field in his heat with a time of 20.22, which was third-fastest in the quarterfinals. The freshman Bear made his move with 150 meters to go and never looked back.
In the field events, all four of BU's athletes finished among the top-12 in their respective events to earn a trip to Eugene.
Despite entering with the region's fifth-best mark, senior Cion Hicks' day in the shot put was filled with drama. She opened with a throw of 51-9 [15.77m], which placed her third, but after not improving on her second attempt Hicks sat 13th headed into the final round of throws. On her last attempt, she uncorked a heave of 52-6 [16.00m], which moved her to 11th and she held that position throughout the final round to earn her third-straight trip to Eugene in the event.
Meanwhile in the triple jump, Baylor got three of its athletes to Eugene. A pair of Lady Bears will represent BU at the national meet. Senior Brianna Richardson enjoyed a solid series of three attempts to earn her third trip to the national meet. She opened with a mark of 43-2.25 [13.16m] to be in second. Richardson then improved upon that distance on each of her next two attempts to finish at 43-7 [13.28m] and in seventh overall. Richardson missed all of last season with injury, but had previously made it to Eugene in 2014 and 2015.
However, fellow senior Rachel Toliver's day was filled a little more tension. After fouling on her first attempt and then managing a jump of only 40-9.5 [12.43m] on her second jump, Toliver was 33rd with one round of jumps to go. At that point, she unleashed a jump of 44-2 [13.46m] to move to third and lock up her ticket to Eugene.
On the men's side in the triple jump, Felix Obi also saved his best for last with a leap of 53-0 [16.15m] on his final attempt to move up to eighth and qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the third-straight year. After only jumping in the triple jump once this outdoor season due to injury, he entered the meet with the top mark in the NCAA at 54-8.25 [16.67m], but the rust was apparent on his first two attempts. Obi tallied a mark of 50-2.75 [15.31m] on his first attempt and then fouled on his second attempt. Heading into his third and final jump, the senior was 26th, but he then produced his top attempt of the day to secure his spot in the national meet.
The full list of Baylor's qualifiers includes 21 athletes, who earned 17 entries: Taylor Bennett (100m, 200m, 4x1, 4x4), Ian Braxton (4x1), George Caddick (400m, 4x4), Leticia De Souza (4x4), Caleb Dickson (4x4), Kiana Hawn (400mh, 4x4), Cion Hicks (shot put), Jhane' King (4x1), Wil London (400m, 4x4), Juanita Mainoo (4x1), Antwuan Musgrove (4x1), Felix Obi (triple jump), Raegan Padgett (4x1), Jenna Pfeiffer (heptathlon), Chris Platt (4x4), Victoria Powell (4x4), Annie Rhodes (pole vault), Brianna Richardson (triple jump), Rachel Toliver (triple jump), Maxwell Willis (100m, 200m, 4x1), Malik Wilson (4x1).
Baylor has had its men's 4x400-meter squad at the NCAA Championships every year since 1980.
Baylor is one of just three schools in the west region (Arkansas, Texas A&M) to get all four of its relays through to Eugene.
Baylor advanced its men's 4x100-meter relay team to the NCAA Championships for the seventh time in the last eight years.
Baylor last advanced all four of its relays to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2014.
Maggie Montoya placed 33rd in the 5,000 meters in 17:21.12 to finish outside of qualifying. The senior, who ran in third during the early stages of the race, lost her right shoe just 300 meters into the race.
TOP QUOTE #1
"Overall, it was an outstanding weekend. We had a few close misses and disappointments along the way, but overall outstanding weekend. We competed hard across the board from our field event athletes to on the track. This meet is not easy, but we survived. We survived and advanced." - head coach Todd Harbour on the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds
Baylor's 17 qualified entries will continue their season at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., at Hayward Field on June 7-10.
To stay current on all things Baylor Track, follow the team on Twitter: @BaylorTrack.
COMPLETE BAYLOR RESULTS
** = Advanced to NCAA Finals site
200 Meters Quarterfinal
9. Taylor Bennett (SO) - 22.89**
3. Maxwell Willis (FR) - 20.22**
5,000 Meters Semifinal
33. Maggie Montoya (SR) - 17:21.12
11. Baylor (Padgett, Bennett, Mainoo, King) - 44.56**
12. Baylor (Wilson, Willis, Musgrove, Braxton) -- 39.62**
4x400-Meter Relay Quarterfinal
5. Baylor (Powell, Hawn, Bennett, De Souza) - 3:30.62** (fifth-best in school history
3. Baylor (Platt, London, Dickson, Caddic) -- 3:03.33**
8. Felix Obi (SR) - 53-0 [16.15m]**
11. Cion Hicks (SR) - 52-6 [16.00m]**