Southern Illinois women claim shot put, hammer at NCAAs
EUGENE, Ore. -- Southern Illinois had a big day at the NCAA track and field championships on Thursday, and host Oregon got off to a good start in the women's team race.
Freshman Raven Saunders won the shot put on her final attempt, a few hours after her Southern Illinois teammate junior DeAnna Price won the hammer.
In other events, Akela Jones of Kansas State won the collegiate title in just the second heptathlon of her career and Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin outdueled rival Sandi Morris of Arkansas in arguably the best women's pole vault competition in meet history.
In the only men's competition of the day, defending champion Maicel Uibo of Georgia passed Arizona's Pau Tonnesen in the final two events to win the decathlon.
Oregon's do-everything Jenna Pandini finished second in the long jump and qualified for Saturday's finals in the 100 meters, 200 and 4 x 100 relay. Alabama's Quanesha Burks won the long jump at 22-8.
Molly Seidel of Notre Dame won the 10,000 after defending champion Boise State faded fast at the finish and wound up 10th.
The Ducks didn't win an event but piled up points anyway -- nine in the 10,000 -- to lead the team race with 31. The Oregon women haven't won the NCAA outdoor title since 1985. Arkansas had 22 points, Georgia 21, Southern Illinois 20 and Kansas State 15. Oregon's men led after Wednesday's first day with 41 points.
Under the new format, except for the decathlon, only women competed at the NCAAs on Thursday. The men had their turn on Wednesday and will finish on Friday. The women's final day of competition is Saturday.
Saunders said the motto for the SIU throwers -- coached by veteran John Smith -- is "let's go eat."
And they helped themselves on Thursday.
Price set a meet record at 234-6 on her last attempt in the day's first final.
She entered the meet with the fourth-best mark of the season but already had clinched the competition when she uncorked her big throw.
"I like being a darkhorse," she said. "A lot of people didn't expect me to do what I did today. And I love that. Because I'm sitting there like `Hey, I got this."
A few hours later, Saunders, the NCAA indoor champion, won on her final attempt, overtaking Kelsey Card of Wisconsin with a throw of 60 feet, 2 1/2 inches. Card threw 58-11 1/4 inches.
"This is a great feeling," Saunders said. "Hopefully this will be the path to me being the first person to win eight straight championships in one event. So I'm looking forward to it."
Pandini, the defending champion in the event, led the long jump with her 22-3 3/4 effort after three attempts but left for the 200 preliminary and passed on her next two attempts when she returned. She fouled on her sixth and last attempt.
Asked how exhausting her day was, the Oregon junior said, "It's more tiring now. While I was doing it I don't think I realized what was happening. I was kind of in `go' mode. Now that it's over I'm relieved that I made it through and ready to go relax and rehab."
Payne set a collegiate record by clearing 15-5, 2 inches higher than Morris reached, in a battle between the two heavy favorites in the pole vault.
Jones, from Barbados, held a big lead after the first day and stayed there throughout Thursday's final three events in the seven-event competition, finishing with 6,371 points. Defending champion Kendell Williams of Georgia was second at 6,223. Williams' teammate Quintunya Chapman was third at 6,147.
Jones said her coach Cliff Rovelto had her prepared for her dominant two-day performance.
"He's as awesome coach. He's a legend," Jones said. "With him and with my ability, my talent, it's just like a dynamic duo. So we're just moving forward. We have bigger goals ahead."
The lanky, 6-foot-2 Jones initially went to Oklahoma Baptist with the idea of gaining credits to go to Kansas State. At the small Oklahoma school (enrollment 2,000), Jones won six NAIA championships, two each in the high jump and long jump and indoor titles in the pentathlon and 60-meter hurdles.
Last year, on the same Hayward Field track, she won the long jump at world junior championships. Jones was the first Barbados athlete, man or woman, to win a medal at the world juniors. She broke the Barbados heptathlon record with one event to go on Thursday.
"Hayward Field is just a historic place," Jones said. "Just so much great people come here to compete. It's just good to come here and be a champion again. It just goes to show that maybe this is my favorite field, for now."
Jones is the first athlete from Barbados to win an NCAA title since Obedele Thompson took the 100 and 200 meters in 1997.
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press
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