National Athletes of the Week Turn in Elite Performances at Penn, Drake, and More

National Athletes of the Week Turn in Elite Performances at Penn, Drake, and More

NEW ORLEANS— Six of the ten National Athletes of the Week competed at Penn or Drake this weekend, and the biggest weekend of the year included a continuation of the Year of the Vault. The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) announced the award winners on Tuesday morning.

Nine of the ten winners are divisional leaders in their respective events. The tenth, Jordan Williamsz of Villanova, met the "Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes…" portion of the criteria in spades. He anchored one of the most dramatic collegiate-only races in recent memory, outkicking a stellar field for the win in the Penn Relays 4xMile. Read on for a recap of the race and a link to the video.

Four more winners are back for repeat honors this season. Sprinter Janet Amponsah of Western Texas College won her fourth NJCAA women’s award, vaulter Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin won her third Division I women’s award, and distance runner Emily Oren of Hillsdale and thrower Justin Welch of Findlay won their second DII awards of the year.

The other five winners set division-leading marks: Eric Larson of Central and Allie Boudreau of Illinois Wesleyan in the DIII multis, Strymar Livingston of Iowa Western in the NJCAA DI men’s 800, Samard Walker of Union in the NJCAA DIII men’s shot put, and Gabrielle Mason of Suffolk in the NJCAA DIII women’s pole vault.

Click each of the student-athletes’ names above or keep scrolling below to read about the exploits that made all ten worthy.

National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to ten (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions and the two NJCAA divisions) collegiate track & field athletes.

Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs.

The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.

DIVISION I MEN – Jordan Williamsz, Villanova

Junior | Melbourne, Australia

In perhaps the most memorable race of the outdoor season so far, the final leg of the Penn Relays 4xMile came to a screeching halt with no one willing to lead. After the leaders essentially jogged through 1209 meters in roughly 3:21, Wisconsin’s Joe Hardy made the first move. Oregon’s Edward Cheserek broke away, but Williamsz manuevered through the pack, caught Cheserek, and passed him in the last 100 meters.

Williamsz covered his last 400 in fifty-two seconds to seal the win for Villanova. Cheserek has run two 10ks at Stanford where he did not crack the top twenty; outside of those two non-competitive races, the only two collegians to beat Cheserek head-to-head were Eric Jenkins and Lawi Lalang. Williamsz joins an extremely exclusive club and helped ‘Nova win their first 4xMile at Penn since 2001. He also anchored Villanova’s runner-up distance medley and third-place 4×800 this weekend.

Honorable mentions: Shawn Barber, Akron and Omar McLeod, Arkansas

DIVISION I WOMEN – Demi Payne, Stephen F. Austin

RS Junior | New Braunfels, Texas

After this weekend’s Drake Relays, Payne now has the outdoor pole vault collegiate record of 4.66 meters (15-3½) and three of the four best outdoor vaults in NCAA history. On Wednesday, she cleared 4.61 to win the street vault at Drake, and on Friday, she went 4.66, beating Sandi Morris and breaking Morris’s three-week-old collegiate record. (See our earlier post explaining why we’re recognizing it as a CR)

Payne had spent the last ten weeks in a mini-drought, losing to Morris three times (including a no-height at the NCAA indoor championships) and not coming within 20cm of her indoor national record. Now she has the indoor (4.75m) and outdoor collegiate records and the No. 2 vault mark in the world this year.

Honorable mention: Courtney Okolo, Texas and Kendra Harrison, Kentucky

DIVISION II MEN – Justin Welch, Findlay

Senior | Luckey, Ohio

Welch won the Penn Relays hammer for the second straight year. Here’s how impressive Welch’s career has been since transferring from Georgia to Findlay: if he were anyone else, his winning mark of 68.34m (224-2) at Penn would make him the seventh best hammer thrower in DII history. But it’s only the thirteenth best mark of the last two years for Welch. He also competed in the discus and hammer at Penn.

Honorable mention: Jeron Robinson, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Keyvan Rudd, Minnesota State

DIVISION II WOMEN – Emily Oren, Hillsdale

Junior | Holland, Michigan

Oren won the 1500 in 4:18.16 on her home track at the Gina Relays. That’s the ninth fastest in-season time (seventh fastest performer) in Division II history, and six seconds faster than her old personal best–set just last week. In addition to setting a huge PB, Oren smoked a large field of Division I and professional runners. She won by nearly five seconds, and now has the fastest time in DII this year.

Honorable mention: Heavin Warner, Central Missouri

DIVISION III MEN – Eric Larson, Central

Senior | Waverly, Iowa

Larson scored 6,770 points to take tenth in the Drake Relays decathlon. That’s a season best, Larson’s best mark since 2013, and the best score in Division III this year. In his last healthy outdoor season, 2013, Larson scored 6,717 at Drake before winning the NCAA outdoor title with 6,969 points. He had the division-leading score in the heptathlon this indoor season before no-heighting in the pole vault at indoor NCAAs.

Honorable mention: Augustana 4×400

DIVISION III WOMEN – Allie Boudreau, Illinois Wesleyan

Senior | Deerfield, Illinois

Boudreau scored 5,065 points in the Drake heptathlon, good for sixth place and eighth on the Division III all-time list. Eight of the ten performances on the list were achieved at nationals; the only other non-NCAA meet one is from 1992. In March, Boudreau won her first NCAA championship with a career-best performance in the pentathlon. This was her heptathlon season debut. With defending outdoor heptathlon champ Amelia Campbell of Carleton back in action this outdoor season (she only threw the shot put at her indoor conference meet, but has competed widely outdoors), the stage is set for another epic heptathlon at the national meet in a month.

Honorable mention: Gladys Njoku, Stevens

NJCAA MEN – Strymar Livingston, Iowa Western

Sophomore | Brooklyn, New York

Livingston won his section of the 800 meters over NCAA DI and DIII competition at Drake in 1:49.52, the fastest junior college time this year. That’s his first-ever time under 1:50, and his second big win in two weeks–he ran the fastest time of the entire meet at the Kansas Relays last week. Livingston took second NJCAA indoor nationals in the 600 in March.

Honorable mention: Iowa Central 4×800

NJCAA WOMEN – Janet Amponsah, Western Texas

Sophomore | Kumasi, Ghana

With only a few weekends of regular season competition left, Amponsah is an extremely impressive ninth on the all-college list for 200 meters. She won the West Texas A&M Twilight in 23.04 seconds, a new PB by 0.01 seconds and the fastest NJCAA time this year–even after converting it to 23.11 for altitude. The WTAMU track has been kind to Amponsah, as she set her old PB of 23.05 there fifty-three weeks ago. She’s a four-time national champion and currently the NJCAA leader in the 100 and 200 meters.

Honorable mention: Courtney Robinson, Central Arizona

NJCAA DIVISION III MEN – Samard Walker, Union County

Sophomore | Jersey City, New Jersey

Walker launched the shot put 15.80m (51-10) at TCNJ, taking second there and establishing himself as the 2015 NJCAA DIII leader in the event. He did so the day after competing as the only JC DIII athlete in the shot put at the Penn Relays. Walker is the defending national champ in the discus and was third in the shot put a year ago. His 15.80m throw would have won 2014 nationals by over a meter.

NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Gabrielle Mason, Suffolk County

Freshman | Westhampton Beach, New York

Mason cleared 3.05m (10-0) to take tenth at the TCNJ Lions Invitational. That makes her the only NJCAA DIII woman over three meters this spring, and would rank her in the top fifteen for NJCAA DIII men. Mason has vaulted four times this outdoor season; all four vaults would be No. 1 on the division’s descending order list.