First the action that got us to the final day – Friday’s finals. I said at the start of the meet that the one lap races would be critical and among the meet’s best events, and Friday they were. All those that were supposed to be involved, were, with one common theme – discipline prevailed! There was no rain on Friday, but with tailwinds on the finishing straight and headwinds on the backstretch, one by one those that went out hard early gave way to those a bit more patient.
In the men’s 400H an early charging Jeshua Anderson (WaSt) gave way to the patient Johnny Dutch (S Car) who ran by the tiring Anderson in the final 70 meters of the race derailing Anderson's three peat hopes. Same story in the women’s event as Ti’erra Brown(Mia) went strong down the backstretch, only to give way to Queen Harrison (VaTech) down the stretch. Thus went the gold in two of the meet’s premier head to head confrontations. What could have been close races turned into runaway victories.
In the open 400, team hopes were bolstered and threatened. In the men’s race the early charging Tavarius Tate (MsSt) gave way to half the field in the stretch and finished 5th as the smooth striding Kirani James (Ala) cruised by the field to victory. Florida’s Calvin Smith also challenged early then slipped to 4th in the stretch, yet his 5 points managed to out pace Texas A&M as Demetrius Pinder and Tabarie Henry only managed 4 points for 6th & 8th. By meet’s end this race could be critical as it appears that the title hunt may well be between these two squads with Oregon appearing to be short on scoring opportunities.
The women’s race was surprising in that only winner Francena McCorory (Hampton) truly ran up to her potential. Oregon’s Keshia Baker looked very tired and never challenged falling back to 4th – and I believe with her Oregon’s team title hopes. Meanwhile Jessica Beard (TxA&M) got up for 2nd – giving the Aggies a boost in the title hunt. Because prior to the 400 the 100 meters had already been run and team points distributed.
The women’s event went to UTEP’s Blessing Okagbare who also ran away from her competition. But behind her Texas A&M went 1-2 behind Porscha Lucas and Jeneba Tarmoh. Texas A&M has recovered nicely from losing the services of Gaby Mayo and looks to have a strong shot at repeating as national champions. In the men’s race Florida’s Jeff Demps did his best Mo Greene imitation, separating mid race and cruising to victory in a slightly windy 9.96 – and becoming the first HS record holder to win an NCAA title in the auto timed era. A&M kept pace with a 4-6 finish that netted 8 points to Florida’s 10.
Oregon held pace with two victories on the day as Ashton Eaton just missed the collegiate record in the decathlon – 1.25 seconds faster in the 1500 and he would have gotten it. And teammate Andrew Wheating ran away from the field in the 800 for another 10 points for the Ducks. The runaway win by Wheating was a shocker of sorts, as chief challenger Robby Andrews ran in last the entire race until 150 to go, and just didn’t maintain contact with Wheating. His finish was strong but too little too late. As many athletes learned today, competing in this type of meet is as much about tactics and smart running as it is about talent!
So after all was said and done we head into the remaining finals this morning with the Texas A&M Aggies looking in control on the women’s side and locked in combat with the Florida Gators for the men’s title. Florida seems to be in the driver’s seat with scoring opportunities in both relays, the long jump and the shot put. A&M is in both relays and the 200. Oregon is in the 1500 and long jump. With the score after 13 events A&M (36), Florida (28), USC (26.5) and Oregon (20) it looks to come down to the head to heads in the relays and Florida’s LJ/SP points vs A&M’s 200 points! I still give Florida the advantage but look for the 4x4 to be a barnburner that may once again decide the title.
After the 400’s did me in yesterday I’m almost afraid to predict the remaining events – but it wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t. So here goes.
In the 4x1’s I think the favorite’s prevail – the Florida men and the A&M women. Florida has run well all season and has Demps on anchor. They pass, they win. Ditto the women Aggies who seem to be just fine minus Gaby Mayo as Jeneba Tarmoh has taken up that slack quite well.
In the 1500 meters Oregon’s Wheating is clearly on a mission. He was easily the most focused athlete in the 800 and I fully expect him to complete the double. The question is how close behind him will his teammates finish. They need a 1-2-3 sweep here to be anywhere near close to the Aggies and Gators – and that’s if Eaton can win the long jump and they get help from some other sprint squads in the relays. Gotta get points here first though. We will see what happens.
Same story in the women’s event. Oregon must pull huge points here to have a shot. Because the Aggies should once again get double points in the 200. I still think that Katie Follett (Wa) and Charlotte Browning (Fl) will be the top two – making it very difficult for Oregon to stay in the title hunt. But Jordan Hasay and Alex Kosinski are nothing if not gutsy, so they will make this a must watch event.
The Aggies’ presence in the 200 – men & women – now makes the deuce perhaps the pivotal event of the meet. Curtis Mitchell vs Rondell Sorrillo (Kentucky) will be critical in the men’s race. I still think the smooth striding Sorrillo can pull it off, but a first or second here by Mitchell plus points from Gerald Phiri will fuel A&M’s title hopes. The big question is how many can they get? With Florida potentially getting a win in the long jump and a runner up in the shot, Phiri needs to be close to top 3 to keep pace. For the women if Lucas and Tarmoh go 1-2 the meet is pretty much over – and yes I’m switching from Tarmoh to Lucas on this one.
Ronnie Ash should come thru with a defense of his 110 hurdle title. Like Eaton in the decathlon and Demps in the 100, he’s just that much better than the rest. In the women’s event we’ll see how well Brown recovers from her loss in the long event, but I have to go with Harrison to complete the double.
Prior to the 4x4 the field event points should be in. Christian Taylor (Fl) still remains the long jump favorite in my mind as does Ryan Whiting (AzSt) in the Shot Put, and Blessing Okagbare (UTEP) in the women’s long jump. Particularly look for fireworks in the men’s long jump with Taylor, Ashton Eaton (Or) and Marquis Goodwin (Tx) all strong competitors, and Taylor & Eaton looking for valuable team points. With the field events complete we should know where the team title hopes lie and who needs to finish in what position by the start of the 4x4’s!
The women’s 4x4 could be run for pride by the time we get here. The Ducks will want to close the meet out with a win in front of the home crowd. The Aggies will want to close out a team title with a win in the final event. Oregon anchor Keshia Baker looked tired in the open event. Running both relays and the 400, and the corresponding semis, looks to have worn her down. Meanwhile winning does wonders and the Aggies seem to have gotten a second wind. Gotta go with the Aggies here, and watch out for the LSU Tigers would will simply be running for pride and a win – a lot to run for for a program with the tradition that they have.
The men will close out the meet with the Aggies and Gators potentially going at it for the team title. Florida has the personnel to go sub 3, while Texas A&M will have to run over it’s head to keep up. Normally I would rate this even as the 4x4 can bring out the unexpected in athletes. But the Aggies big closer, Tabarie Henry, has been a couple steps off all meet – so I think Florida keeps its edge. Mississippi State couple play spoiler however, with Tate, Mullings and Wilder all capable of big legs.
Regardless of the final outcome, it’s been a great meet. I’m dying to see how it all turns out. Below is Demp’s sizzling 100 win.