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Ducks Survive Scare, Taylor Upset 10,000m Victor

June 8th, 2017

Eugene, Oregon

After yesterday's invigorating opening day of men's track & field competition, it was the women's turn on Thursday to show what they could do under overcast, cool, and breezy conditions at Hayward Field.

Action kicked off with the hammer throw. And it didn't take long for the ladies to get their first day of competition off with a bang. Coming to Eugene with an impressive collegiate leader of 72.81m//238'10," Arizona State junior Maggie Ewen - an imposing athlete - stepped into the ring as the strong favorite. After a shaky start on her opening throw, the Sun Devil got it rolling with a beautifully rhythmic heave on her third attempt; a high arching shot that splashed down at 73.32m/240'7" to set a new NCAA championship and collegiate record. "I had been feeling really comfortable about my entry and my coach told me when I get that feeling to really go after it," the champion shared afterwards. Later in the day, Ewen would score 3 more points for the Sun Devils by finishing 6th in the shot put. 6th round scrambling is often the case in these championship field contests and today's hammer was no different. With exceptional final attempts, Northern Arizona's Brooke Andersen [68.62m/225'1"] and Georgia frosh Beatrice Llano [67.42m/221'2"] clawed their way past several competitors to finish 2nd and 3rd respectively.

As is always the case, surprises were sprinkled throughout the various semi-final rounds of the running events. Sloppy baton exchanges led to the disqualification of collegiate leader LSU in the 4 x 100m relay semis. Kaela Edwards - Oklahoma State's reigning indoor mile champion - failed to advance in the 1500m. Colorado freshman Madison Boreman [9:51.00] posted a 15 second PR as an unexpected heat winner in the steeplechase.

By the same token, just as many semi-final races followed the form charts. Defending champion Jasmine Comacho-Quinn [12.84] looked crisp in winning her heat of the 100m hurdles - and can expect to be pushed in Saturday's final by UTEP's Tobi Amusan, Oregon's Sasha Wallace, USC's Anna Cockrell and Purdue's Devynne Charlton. Texas senior Chrisann Gordon clocked a collegiate leader 50.39 to be the top qualifier in the 400m where she'll face formidable opposition in the likes of Miami's Shakima Wimbley. Two-time defending champion and collegiate record-holder Raevyn Rogers toyed with the field in her semi, closing in 60.1 [after a pedestrian opening 400m in 65] to advance handily to Saturday's final where she'll be joined by her Duck teammate Brooke Feldmeier. Sage Watson - Arizona's sleek and talented Olympian - lowered her own collegiate leader with a semi-final clocking of 54.88 - just off her personal best. She'll be hard to beat in Saturday's final.

Even some Hayward Magic came into play. In the 100m semis, the fickle breezes were headwinds for heats one and three. But prevailing gusts were tailwinds for heat two - the section in which Oregon sprinters Arianna Washington and Deajah Stevens were racing. The favoring wind was probably just the push the Ducks two sprint stars [who finished 3rd and 4th] needed to grab little q's and advance on time. It was this fortuitous development Oregon coach Robert Johnson likely had in mind when - in his post meet comments - he stated, "Lots of scares today. Not the best day for us overall as a group, but our saving grace is that everyone got through."

Besides Ewen's towering performance in the hammer, the 4 other field event finals produced sparkling results.

In the women's pole vault, Kentucky's Olivia Gruver calmly made a first attempt clearance at 4.50m/14'9" to spoil a valiant title defense put up by Arkansas's Lexi Weeks. The Razorback had jumped cleanly to 4.50m and passed after her first attempt miss at that height. And neither athlete had success at 4.55m/14'1l". The new champion was irrepressible in the mixed zone. "I knew I had it because I knew if I stay calm I can do anything. It's just so surreal right now. I don't even know what's happening, but it's fun," gushed Gruver. "I love competing against great people because you know that when you win, you're good."

Virginia Tech's Irena Sediva was the javelin victor when her 5th-round flight of 58.77m/192'9" gave her a winning 7" margin over Florida athlete Marija Vucenovic. "It was tough," said the Hokie field star. "I was trying to stay focused and not think about being second the whole time. It was making me nervous a little bit. But I think I was able to pull it off. I am pretty happy," said the winner who won this championship in 2015 but was unable to defend in 2016 due to health reason. "It [recapturing the crown] means a lot. It means redemption for me. Last year, it was painful not being able to be here. I couldn't imagine leaving without winning it."

Just as the Florida long jumpers had achieved the previous day, the Georgia duo of Kate Hall [6.73m/22'1"] and Keturah Orji [6.71m/22'¼] staged a close battle and ultimately went 1-2 in the horizontal jump to harvest 18 important points for the Gators. "It feels amazing. I knew I've wanted this for so long," said Hall afterwards as she savored not only the 1-2 Florida finish but also a rare horizontal jump win over her Gator teammate who is the collegiate and American record holder in the triple jump. "This has been my dream, and I knew I had to get a good jump from the start, and I'm so excited."

Kent State senior Daniell Thomas surprised the field - which included defending champion Raven Saunders - by handily winning the shot put. Her winning throw of 19.15m/62'10" was over 3 feet further than any of her competitors' efforts and now stands as the 5th best throw in collegiate history. "Words cannot explain it," the Jamaican athlete revealed. "You know that moment when the hard work finally pays off? There's nothing that can describe that feeling."

Near the conclusion of the women's semi-final day, the 10,000 meter run took center stage as the shadows lengthened in the Oregon gloaming. As the 24 starters got underway, Notre Dame freshman Anna Rohrer - one of the pre-race favorites - dashed to the front and towed the field through an opening kilometer in 3:14. Tucked in right behind her were New Mexico junior Alice Wright, North Florida's Eden Meyer, and Kansas junior Sharon Lokedi. The pace remained rhythmic and undaunting as the bunched field went through 5 kilometers in 16:28. Just before the halfway mark, Wright moved into the lead followed closely by University of San Francisco senior Charlotte Taylor as the suddenly-struggling Rohrer quickly slid out the back door and back to 10th. Before long, Lokedi and Montana State sophomore Alyssa Snyder joined the leading duo as the foursome split 6K in 19:42. Soon after the 7 kilo mark, Snyder fell off the pace as the remaining trio upped the tempo. With the cadence never wavering from a 77-78 pace, the tight threesome approached the bell lap. As the capacity crowd would soon witness, the pace was Taylor-made. As the final circuit began, the San Francisco athlete's powerful downshift caught the other two napping as Taylor broke away cleanly. Unthreatened, the virtually-unknown Taylor cranked out a workmanlike 68 second final 400 to win the race in 32:38.57. Wright rallied for 2nd in 32:42.64 and Lokedi crossed in a lifetime best of 32:46.10 for 3rd. "I think it hasn't really sunk in yet. I just felt really great," said the improbable winner. "The race played out just how I would have liked, I just tried to stay calm. And as the race strung out, I felt good at that pace." And her last lap? "When the gap opened up on the inside with 400 meters to go, I guess I just saw it and went for it," smiled the senior. "I still had something left at the end." Her competitors can likely confirm that.

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Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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