WEEKEND PREVIEW: Drake Relays
While the Penn Relays are going on in Pennsylvania, another long-standing relay meet tradition will be going down in Des Moines, Iowa: the 106th edition of the Drake Relays.
We break down the best collegiate competition of the weekend below and on the next two pages, starting with…
Collegians Taking on the Pros
Women’s Pole Vault: Sandi Morris vs. Demi Payne vs. the Pros
Friday, 7:15pm ET/6:15pm CT
The Year of the Vault has been well-documented by this point, but here’s a quick recap of the women’s story, starting from January.
Sandi Morris of Arkansas broke the collegiate record, had it broken a day later by Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin, who raised it even higher the next weekend. Then Payne beat Morris head-to-head in their first meeting. From there, Morris only got better as Payne seemed to decline (despite winning the USA indoor title). Morris topped Payne in their next meeting, and then went on to claim the NCAA indoor title several weeks later, tying the meet record as Payne no-heighted. That trend only continued outdoors, as Morris broke the collegiate record and Payne has been struggling to get back on track – including a head-to-head loss at the Texas Relays.
There, you’re all caught up. The two meet again for the fifth time this year, with Morris leading the season series over Payne, 3-1. In what will be something of a role reversal for the duo, they likely won’t enter as favorites. Those honors will probably go to indoor world record holder and Olympic champion Jenn Suhr or two-time-defending Drake Relays champion Yarisley Silva of Cuba.
Morris is the current world leader at 15-1¾ (4.62m) with Payne now just behind at No. 2 after winning the Drake Relays Street Vault on Wednesday night at 15-1½ (4.61m). Neither Suhr nor Silva has yet debuted outdoors.
In the collegiate section of the pole vault, watch out for Annie Rhodes of Baylor and the return of Emily Grove of South Dakota, who was last seen in a USD uniform while finishing runner-up at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Women’s 800: Shelby Houlihan vs. America’s Best
Friday, 9pm ET/8pm CT
Shelby Houlihan of Arizona State – the defending NCAA champion at 1500 meters – finished seventh in the 800 meter final at the USA Outdoor Championships a year ago, running a career-best 2:01.12. Four or the women who finished ahead of her in that race – winner Ajee Wilson, 2014 Bowerman Trophy Winner Laura Roesler, Maggie Vessey and 2013 World Championships bronze medalist Brenda Martinez – are in the field this weekend, as well as 2014 indoor world champ Chanelle Price and five-time USA champion Alysia Montaño.
Since then, Houlihan has raised her speed to another gear. She ran 4:28.71 in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships for the sixth-fastest time in collegiate history, and has already approached her 800m PR this outdoor season with a 2:01.92 at the Sun Angel Classic to win by nearly four seconds.
Men’s Pole Vault: Shawn Barber vs. Renaud Lavillenie
Saturday, 3:15pm ET/2:15pm CT
While the Year of the Vault for the women has been a two-woman show, it has been a very singular phenomenon for the men. Shawn Barber of Akron had the best season of any indoor collegiate pole vaulter in history, breaking the collegiate record numerous times en route to his second consecutive national title.
He’s been a buzzsaw for opponents all year long, but – as in the women’s vault – he’ll get his first true test of the season as he goes up against world record holder and Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France.
As it stands now, Barber is the current world leader in the event at 19-4¼ (5.90m), but the season is young. Lavillenie has yet to debut this 2015 outdoor season after posting the top seven clearances of the 2015 indoor campaign. Barber was No. 2 on the 2015 indoor performers list at 19-4½ (5.91m), but has hit a slump of late with heights of 5.35m and 5.57m in the past two weekends.
Barber continued his slump Wednesday night at the Drake Relays Street Vault, managing only 17-6½ (5.35m) in cold and windy conditions before bowing out, while Lavillenie cleared 19-¼ (5.80m) for the win.