TEXAS RELAYS PREVIEW: Individual Events

TEXAS RELAYS PREVIEW: Individual Events

The Countdown to Tracktown is at just under 11 weeks: the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships will kick off Wednesday, June 10, in Eugene, Oregon.

But, of course, there’s a whole regular season to complete before making the trip to the Pacific Northwest.

That journey reaches its first nationally significant milestone this weekend with the Texas Relays (LIVE on the Longhorn Network for subscribers).

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While, deservedly and fittingly, the main fixtures of the weekend are the myriad sprint and distance relays on the schedule – many of which including the 4×200, distance and sprint medleys, and 4×800 are not contested at the NCAA Championships but are still great fun – this weekend also sets the stage for exciting individual competitions.

Not only do we get to see rematches of some of the great indoor duels of this past season, but also the first looks at outdoor-only events like the discus and 400-meter hurdles.

We break down the biggest individual action going down in Austin this weekend below. Check back later for previews of the most prominent relay races.

Men’s 100 Meters

FINAL: 4:18pm ET/3:18pm CT
Prelims: Friday, 12pm ET/11am CT

We didn’t get to see Baylor’s Trayvon Bromell get a shot at the 60-meters title at the NCAA Indoor Championships a couple weeks ago, and unfortnuately it doesn’t appear we’re going to get to see him take his shot at the man who won that title: Ronnie Baker of TCU. Bromell is entered in the open 100-meters competition while Baker is slated for the invitational section.

We will, however, get our first look at Bromell since he won the indoor 200-meters title in a blazing 20.19 – and on the same track which he first turned heads as a freshman collegian a year ago. He ran 10.02 in the prelims and then 10.01 in the final at the Texas Relays a year ago in his very first meet running the 100 at the collegiate level. The rest is history as he eventually won the NCAA title in the event in 9.97 – euqal to the 10th-fastest time in collegiate history.

Women’s and Men’s Pole Vault

Women’s “A” Competition: Saturday, 1pm ET/Noon CT
Men’s Elite Competition: Saturday, 2:45pm ET/1:45pm CT

The indoor season may be finished, but the Year of the Vault is far from over. Sandi Morris of Arkansas, Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin and Shawn Barber of Akron have wrapped up their assaults on the indoor collegiate record books, and will begin their onslaught of outdoor history in Austin.

In the women’s competition, indoor NCAA Champion Morris will square off with indoor collegiate record holder Payne for the fourth time this season, with the Razorback having captured the past two.

Morris is on a roll after winning the SEC crown with a career-best 4.66m clearance and the NCAA title at 4.60m, while Payne is coming off a no-height at NCAAs that was preceded by a 4.55m win at USAs and a loss to Morris the weekend before conference meets.

The collegiate record of 4.61m by Tina Sutej of Arkansas from 2011 is ripe for the taking.

On the men’s side, Barber wrapped up the greatest season in the history of men’s indoor collegiate pole vaulting with second NCAA title in a row, this time clearing a collegiate-record 5.91m. He cleared heights of 19 feet on ten different occasions and now owns the top three vaults in collegiate history.

The only man who has gone higher than him, indoors or out? Lawrence Johnson of Tennessee, who cleared 5.98m outdoors in 1996.

However, the outdoor all-time collegiate list has not yet been breached by the Zip junior. In fact – a fact that would seem unfathomable this year – Barber no-heighted at Texas Relays a year ago with three misses at 5.20m.

Don’t expect a repeat.

Some records Barber could reach this weekend in his 2015 outdoor debut:

  • 5.98m – The all-time collegiate record described above
  • 5.90m – The Texas Relays collegiate record by Jacob Davis of Texas in 1998
  • 5.81m – Best ever collegiate vault in the month of March by Sam Kendricks of Ole Miss in 2014

He’ll square off with Kendricks in this competition – who beat him at this meet a year ago and then ultimately also at NCAAs – along with 2015 indoor runner-up Jake Blankenship of Tennessee.

Men’s Discus Throw

Friday, 5pm ET/4pm CT

In terms of the farthest throws of the 2014 season among returning athletes, the top three men in the country will be squaring off in Austin this weekend.

Tavis Bailey of Tennessee may have finished third at last year’s NCAA Championships, but his 2014-best heave of 64.51m sets him up at No. 1 on the preseason list by distance. He’ll take on No. 2 Rodney Brown of LSU – who is theearly 2015 leader at 63.37m – and No. 3 Ryan Crouser of host Texas, who finished last year at 63.90m.

Brown was 10th at NCAAs a year ago, while Crouser had to miss the discus due to an injury sustained while winning the shot put – an event in which he’ll also be competing this weekend against 2014 runner-up Stephen Mozia of Cornell and third-place Nick Vena of Georgia.

Women’s Discus Throw

Saturday, 2:30pm ET/1:30pm CT

The women’s discus is just as promising, as defending national champion Shelbi Vaughan of Texas A&M will take on No. 4 Alexis Cooks of Akron, No. 5 Kearsten Peoples of Missouri and No. 6 Valarie Allman of Stanford.

Vaughan, whose farthest throw a year ago was 63.60 to win at SECs, has already gone 59.49m this year – farther than the top 2014 marks of every returner in the country except Kellion Knibb of Florida State. That debut effort was nearly four meters better than her season-opening effort in 2014.

Peoples also has some momentum on her side, having just won the NCAA indoor title in the weight throw two weekends ago.

Men’s High Jump

Saturday, 3:45pm ET/2:45pm CT

It’s never too soon for a rematch.

When 2015 indoor champion Jacorian Duffield and runner-up Bradley Adkins of Texas Tech square off with third-place Wally Ellenson of Marquette, it will have been less than three weekends since their epic duel at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

Duffield emerged as the tiebreak victor in that competition after clearing 2.29m on his final attempt, garnering fewer misses on his prior attempts than teammate Adkins, who also cleared that same height on his third attempt.

Ellenson could not get over that same height on his third attempt, leaving him third at 2.23m. He would rather this weekend go the way of last year’s outdoor NCAA meet – Ellenson (then competing for Minnesota) finishing as the national runner-up while Duffield and Adkins were 10th and 13th.

Men’s 400-Meter Hurdles

FINAL – Friday, 8:05pm ET/7:05pm CT
Prelims – Thursday, 6pm ET/5pm CT

Like the long throwers in the discus, javelin and hammer throw, long hurdlers similarly have to compete throughout the entire winter in non-specialty events. That comes to an end this weekend.

When last we saw top 2014 returner Michael Stigler of Kansas outdoors, it was in an upset loss in the 400-meter hurdle finals at the NCAA Championships to Nebraska’s Miles Ukaoma by two-thirds of a second, 49.23 to 49.90.

Stigler’s back this year for one more shot at quarter-mile-hurdle glory, but so too are five more finalists from that race – four of whom will likely meet Stigler again in this weekend’s final.

LSU’s No. 6 Quincy Downing was third by less than a tenth of a second a year ago in the NCAA final, but he’s just the third-highest ranked challenger to Stigler this weekend based on overall times from 2014.

The biggest threat might be UTSA’s No. 3 Keyunta Hayes, who was sixth in last year’s final but has already run a superior time at 50.47 – less than a second off his 2014 best.

Also challenging for the win will be No.  4 Gregory Coleman of Texas A&M and No. 10 Josh Taylor of Stephen F. Austin.

Women’s 400-Meter Hurdles

FINAL – Friday, 7:55pm ET/6:55pm CT
Prelims – Thursday, 5:30pm ET/4:30pm CT

Though Texas A&M sophomore Shamier Little is more than competent in the open 400 meters – she was fourth at the NCAA Indoor Championships for the second consecutive year – she is the best 400-meter hurdler in the country based on her 2014 NCAA outdoor title in the event.

Ranked No. 2 in the preseason based on the fastest times by returners from 2014, she’ll open her season this weekend against four other preseason top-10 athletes in No. 3 Sparkle McKnight of Arkansas, No. 5 Chanice Chase, No. 8 Samantha Elliott of Clemson, and No. 9 Autumne Franklin of Harvard.

Other than Little, the lone remaining finalist from that group is Chase, who was fifth at NCAAs a  year ago. McKnight took a redshirt season in 2014, but was sixth in the final two years ago that featured two of the fastest collegians of all-time in Kori Carter and Georganne Moline.

Elliott will be competing in her first outdoor meet with Clemson after winning the NCAA Division II 400-meter hurdles title a year ago.