US Juniors: Shelbi Vaughan adds two more USRs; redemption for Hill, Madu

Shelbi Vaughan TX set her third and fourth USRs of the year in the discus. John Nepolitan/ESPNHS


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It looked as though the 100-meter finals would be the peak of the Friday action for the prep stars competing at the USATF Junior Championships at the Robert Haugh Complex, with Tyreek Hill GA and Jennifer Madu TX making up for Dream 100 disappointment in dramatic fashion and securing berths for the World Junior Championships next month in Barcelona.

But something was happening outside the stadium at the end of the session, on the exterior throwing field; a familiar name was seizing the day with yet another amazing record performance.

In the finals of the women’s discus, Legacy (Mansfield, Texas) senior Shelbi Vaughan was again doing what it seems like she’s been doing all spring – breaking records – but this time doing so in a manner exceeding her previous endeavors. On her first throw of the finals, she added more than three feet to the USR with a 196-11. Then on the final throw of the competition, she powered out to an eye-popping 198-9, drawing ever closer to the once unthinkable 200-foot barrier and taking down Suzy Powell’s American Junior record to boot.

Don’t be surprised if there’s more to come in Barcelona. “I’m never really satisfied,” she said.

Vaughan and Hill were two of the biggest winners on a super day for preps on the first of three days of competition (the aforementioned Madu was actually second in the 100). They were especially impressive off the track, taking five of the six field events as US#1s Haley Crouser OR (javelin), Rudy Winkler NY (hammer) and Jarrion Lawson TX (long jump), and US#2 Sean Keller WA (javelin) all joined Vaughan atop the medal stand. None of them quite matched their PRs, but most won in dominant fashion.

On the track, three other finals were contested besides the 100s, with Dondre Echols MD coming from behind for a dramatic triumph in the 110 hurdles and national leader Brianna Nerud running away with the 3,000 steeplechase. Prelims took place in six other events, with US#1s again shining. Mary Cain NY (1,500), Ajee’ Wilson NJ (800), and Eric Futch PA (400 hurdles) paced the efforts in their events, with Futch improving his PR to 51.18.

On a day with few major disappointments, these were two: Defending 100 champ Marvin Bracy FL was a late, late scratch, his hamstring injury preventing him from making it to the line for the prelims. And in the 400 hurdles, 2011 World Youth champ Nnenya Hailey GA appeared to win the first of three prelims in a US#1 58.78, only to suffer disqualification later for hooking a hurdle.

200 at hand for Vaughan

With two fouls and a “safe” throw of 181-4, Vaughan began her meet in pretty unremarkable fashion, but finals were another story. She did have a foul on her fifth attempt, but her fourth and sixth were history-making. First, the 196-11 (her first throw over 60 meters at 60.03), then the 198-9. “Everything was pretty much clicking then,” she said. “I just wish I had a little more wind.”

The previous week at Golden West, where Vaughan set her previous mark, there was plenty of wind, but it “only helped a little.”

See, Vaughan wasn’t just feeling like she could improve her national record Friday, but go over that magical 200-foot barrier. “I’ve been hitting it in practice,” she said, “I’ve been throwing really well … I’ve changed my technique in the back a little bit and it’s helping me throw further.”

Friday’s effort moved Vaughan up to a tie for #2 on the World Junior list, with only Germany’s Anna Ruh ahead of her. A World Youth medalist last year, Vaughan expects to do at least as well at this next level. “I want to make top three, if not win,” she said. And at the Olympic Trials, which begin next Friday, she has high goals as well. She now ranks seventh among all American throwers, pro, college and otherwise. “I’d really like to make the final.”

Behind Vaughan, St. Francis (Minn.) senior Maggie Ewen nearly made Team USA, too, but her 171-0 was just two inches behind “DyeStat Alum” Alex Collatz, the USC frosh who hit 171-2.

Other prep throws stars had big goals Friday, too. In fact, one well-respected scribe had predicted a USR of 184 or 185 feet for Gresham (Ore.) senior Haley Crouser in the javelin. “I thought I could do it, too,” she laughed, when told of the prognostication.

The USR-holder at 181-2, Crouser had to settle for 166-7. “I felt good out there,” she said, “it just wasn’t going very far. The last few weeks, training has been really good, but that’s the way it played out today.”

Crouser said she was more nervous than normal Friday, largely due to the presence of Brianna Bain. The former Aloha (Beaverton, Ore.) prep had improved dramatically at Stanford this spring, finishing second in the NCAA with a best of 180-2. She, too, was not quite up to par, but joins Crouser on Team USA with her 161-2. “I’m excited to be on the team with her,” said Crouser, “to be able to work together to get ready for Barcelona.”

Like Vaughan, Crouser moves up to the next level of IAAF World competition with her second Team USA singlet. And, of course, she’s also preparing for the Trials where she has a great chance to do well in the finals.

Sean Keller and Rudy Winkler were dominant throws champions on the men’s side. Keller, the Heritage (Vancouver, Wash.) senior who represented Team USA at the Pan Am Juniors last summer, won the javelin by 18 feet at 237-6 on his first throw. His US#2 best is 244-1 and with US#1 Billy Stanley PA not competing this weekend, he was the heavy favorite to win. Winkler, the Averill Park (N.Y.) junior who was also a 2011 World Youth finalist, launched the junior weight hammer 232-1 on his third attempt, just five feet off his best and eight feet clear of second place.

The other prep field event winner was Liberty-Eylau (Texarkana, Texas) senior Jarrion Lawson, who leapt 25-5.5 (+1.4w) on his second attempt, then 25-6w (+2.5) – just off his US#1 25-10.75 – and beat collegian 26-footer Jarrett Samuels.

Joy for Hill and Madu

There were few happier faces than Tyreek Hill’s after the 100 final – or even the 100 prelim. You could see, when the Coffee County (Douglas, Ga.) senior won the second prelim in 10.28 (-0.9w), that there was a great release of unbridled joy and perhaps relief. Hill had proven he could do it at this level after what happened in New York – where in the Dream 100 he had false started and made a first-ever cross-country journey and national competition an empty experience.

“I just went home and worked on my start,” he said. “Just ran some hard 100s in practice and just worked on finishing, too.”

The final featured the likes of Dream 100 third-place finisher Abraham Hall TX and LSU All-American Aaron Ernest, a DyeStat Alum, but Hill never gave them a chance, powering down the middle of the track and crossing the line again in obvious exaltation. It was another 10.28, this time into a 1.8 headwind, and a big .18 ahead of Ernest.

“I wanted to run faster, but I’m really happy with the win,” he said. “I’m very excited to go to Barcelona, to meet new people and learn new languages … all the hard work has paid off.”

Hard work – especially this past week – paid off for Jennifer Madu, too. The 2011 World Youth champ had an outstanding spring in Texas, culminating with four gold medals at the 5A state championships. But in last week’s Dream 100, she was a well-beaten fifth in 11.61.

Well, it turns out Madu’s sprinting rhythm was a little off. “I’ve been playing softball and getting used to sprinting between the bases and stopping,” she said. “After the state meet in track, our softball team went to state, too. I hadn’t been working that hard on the track.

“I allowed my body to rest and got my mind straight,” the Plano East senior continued, “then I hit the track hard last week.” In the prelims, Madu was just behind US#1 (and Dream 100 champ) Shayla Sanders FL with her 11.52 (-0.4w). Then running on the outside in the final, she showed form as good as ever with an 11.57 (-0.2) that was .01 ahead of the Floridian for second.

In both the prelims and the final, collegian Dezerea Bryant – a relayer for Team USA at the 2010 World Juniors – was dominant, running 11.38 and 11.43 for the win. But Madu earned the second spot and will make her second international trip. “It feels so good,” she said.

Two other preps won championships on the track. In a men’s 110H final crowded with preps sporting mid-13s PRs, Potomac (Oxon Hill, Md.) senior Dondre Echols came from behind and won with a US#5 13.56 (-1.8w). His strong finish carried him past US#2 Jordan Moore GA (4th, 13.85) and #4 Devon Allen AZ (3rd, 13.66), the prelims leader at 13.59. US#3 Donovan Robertson OH had an early stumble and took seventh and in second to join Echols for Barcelona was Pitt frosh Josh Thompson.

Showing the same dominance in the event that she has all year (both 2k and 3k), North Shore (Glen Head, N.Y.) senior Brianna Nerud rolled to a 10:23.87 – off her US#1 10:19.91, but not bad for running alone in the early evening heat. She makes her second straight international team after making the World Youth 2k ST finals in 2011.

Lots of qualifiers

With US#1 performers Ajee Wilson NJ, Mary Cain NY, Tanner Sork WA and Eric Futch PA leading the way, there were lots of prep qualifiers into finals slated for Saturday or Sunday. Wilson, the top-seeded Neptune senior, cruised to victory in the first of three women’s 800 heats in 2:08.00. The big surprise came in heat three, however, when second-seeded collegian Shelby Houlihan of Arizona State allowed the pace to go slow and then was outkicked by Billings (Mont.) senior Danielle Aragon, 2:10.45-2:10.46. Because it started slow, there were no time qualifiers from the heat and 2:03-runner Houlihan was out. Three other preps made the final.

The first heat of the men’s 800 was captured decisively by national leader Sork in 1:52.09. Will Crocker IL was the other prep who advanced.

In the women’s 1,500, nine preps made it through as the two heats were taken by US#2 Andover Academy (Mass.) senior Cayla Hatton (4:25.64) and Cain, the Bronxville (N.Y.) soph (4:24.25). 2011 World Youth finalists Cami Chapus CA (Dream Mile champ, US#2 miler, #3 1,500) and Hannah Meier MI (New Balance Nationals Indoor mile champ) both looked fine in advancing, but an eye-opener was Griswold (Iowa) frosh Rebekah Topham PR’ing with 4:28.92 to get to the final. California state champ Nikki Hiltz and Dream Mile third-place finisher Alli Cash KS also moved on.

While collegians led the way in the men’s 1500 prelims, the top high schoolers did great, as well. Strong Dream Mile finishers Josh Lampron MA (4:02.98 last week), Izaic Yorks WA (4:04.28) got through, as expected, and coming back after a rough last-place outing in New York was Craig Nowak TX, who kicked in right behind Yorks in heat one. “I really don’t know what happened (in the Dream Mile), except I just had an off race,” said Nowak. “It’s been a long season. But I had a good week training this past week.”

The 400 hurdles were a mix of triumph and heartbreak for top preps. On the men’s side, the aforementioned Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.) senior Futch, the Penn Relays champ coming in with a 51.67 PR, showed top form with a new US#1 51.18. Robertson, the 300H US#1 who would later finish seventh in the 110H final (above), made it in, too. But in the first women’s heat, Hailey had the above-mentioned 58.78 that appeared to be a new US#1. After the DQ was announced, Hailey and her mother discussed the matter at great length with officials, but to no avail. “They said she clipped the hurdle, or went around it, but we just didn’t see it,” she said.