Ten years ago at the ECAC Championships, the Cornell women’s 4×400-meter relay — anchored by Shonda Brown — elevated Heps to a new level. The Big Red clocked a 3:36.04, thus shaving more than two seconds of the League record and qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
Last night at the NCAA East Prelims in Jacksonville, Fla., Cornell and Harvard took the League to even higher and more unimaginable heights in that iconic relay event, highlighting a day that saw 10 individuals from the Heps Nation advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., June 10-13 at Hayward Field.
The Crimson faced a formidable field in the first heat of the 4×400, last night’s final women’s event. Lining up with Florida State, Kentucky, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and UCF, the Crimson took aim at the League record of 3:34.40 set by the Big Red at the same event last May. And the foursome of Autumne Franklin, Gabrielle Scott, Christi Scott and Jade Miller (who ran an anchor lap of 52.34) crushed it, running 3:33.76 for a sixth-place finish in a speedy heat.
That record lasted just minutes as Cornell posted a stunning time of 3:31.77 in the second heat, earning an automatic spot to Eugene with Florida and LSU. Behind the Big Red were teams like Mississippi State, South Carolina, Penn State and UConn. The splits were amazing as Katie Woodford (53.8) and Zena Kolliesuah (53.6) got through under 54, but handed the stick to freshman Taysia Radoslav in sixth place.
Radoslav passed Mississippi State and South Carolina on her lap, running the fastest third leg in 52.70. She handed off to Heps 400-meter champion Udeme Akpaete in fourth. Akpaete simply ran the fastest lap of any woman in a Heps uniform since 1990 when two-time Olympian Meredith Rainey ran a 51.56 open 400 at Heps in Franklin Field. Akpaete’s 51.66 effort held off Mississippi State’s hard-charging Shayla Luckett for the final automatic berth.
“In all my years of watching Cornell relays compete,” wrote Big Red Coach Artie Smith afterward, “This one will stand out in how it redefined what is possible on the big stage.”
Harvard’s short-term League record was not enough to advance to Nationals as 3:32.13 was the cutoff.
In addition to Cornell’s relay squad, six current athletes advanced from the East Prelim in Florida while four Heps alums qualified for Nationals from the West Prelims in Austin, Texas.
Princeton junior Julia Ratcliffe will defend her national hammer throw title after posting the second-best toss of 218-0 behind her biggest rival, Brooke Pleger of Bowling Green. Seniors Nadia Eke of Columbia and Stephen Mozia of Cornell will chase a final All-America award. Eke advanced in the triple jump with a third-place leap of 42-11 3/4 and Mozia — despite a knee injury suffered at IC4As — dramatically moved forward with the final 12th-place slot in the shot put with a best of 61-5 (more than six feet shy of his personal best). After fouls on his first two attempts, his third was deemed a foul by officials, but a Cornell protest led to a video review, which should Mozia did not foul. His mark was just centimeters ahead of the thrower in the 12th spot.
Dartmouth had two qualifiers on Saturday as junior Kaitlin Whitehorn cleared 5-10 1/2 without a miss in the high jump to earn a spot while senior teammate Dana Giordano used a strong final charge to take an auto spot in the 5,000-meter run. Sitting in sixth at the bell, she’d need a top-five finish in the first heat to guarantee an Oregon berth. She ran the fastest final lap of all the runners (1:10.41) to pass N.C. State’s Erika Kemp and finish in 16:01.57.
Penn junior Thomas Awad — Outdoor Heps’ Most Outstanding Performer — was the final individual qualifier in Florida, running 13:57.40 to win the first heat of the 5,000-meter run. Awad ran in or near the front the whole race and then used his well-known kick (a meet-best 1:00.81 final 400m) to distance himself from the field.
Out west in Austin, Texas, former Princetonian Peter Callahan, now at New Mexico, and former Columbian Johnny Gregorek, now at Oregon, both sailed through with automatic berths in the 1,500-meter run. Callahan ran 3:42.93 while Gregorek clocked 3:43.17. Gregorek’s former Dartmouth rival Will Geoghegan, now a teammate at Oregon, ran a 13:50.21 in the 5k to qualify for Nationals.
One final member of the Heps Nation to advance was Nebraska triple jumper Mollie Gribbin, a former member of the Dartmouth Big Green, who recorded a 42-8 effort on her first leap. She had placed second at the Big 10 Championships with a wind-aided mark of 43-3 3/4.
Heps Nation’s 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championship Qualifiers
Udeme Akpaete (Cornell) – 4x400m relay
Thomas Awad (Penn) — 5k run
Cecilia Barowski (Princeton) — 800m run
Elizabeth Bird (Princeton) — steeplechase
Peter Callahan (Princeton-New Mexico) — 1,500m run
Megan Curham (Princeton) — 10k run
Nadia Eke (Columbia) — triple jump
Autumne Franklin (Harvard) — 400m hurdles
Will Geoghegan (Dartmouth-Oregon) — 5k run
Dana Giordano (Dartmouth) — 5k run
John Gregorek (Columbia-Oregon) — 1,500m run
Mollie Gribbin (Dartmouth-Nebraska) — triple jump
Kelsey Hay (Penn) — javelin throw
Noah Kennedy-White (Penn) — discus throw
Zena Kolliesuah (Cornell) – 4x400m relay
Hannah Mayer (Harvard) — javelin throw
Sam Mattis (Penn) — discus throw
Conor McCullough (Princeton-USC) — hammer throw
Jade Miller (Harvard) — 400m hurdles
Mike Monroe (Penn) — high jump
Stephen Mozia (Cornell) — shot put
Josie Natrasevschi (Brown) — discus throw
Waverly Neer (Columbia-Oregon) — 10k run
Nikk Okwelogu (Harvard) — shot put
Sam Pons (Princeton) — 10k run
Julia Radcliffe (Princeton) — hammer throw
Taysia Radoslav (Cornell) — 400m hurdles; 4x400m relay
Stephen Soerens (Princeton) — decathlon
Kaitlin Whitehorn (Dartmouth) — high jump
Rudy Winkler (Cornell) — hammer throw
Katie Woodford (Cornell) – 4x400m relay