Kansas saw victories in events covering nearly every one of the track & field disciplines, eight to be exact, as the Jayhawks took part in the 35th Annual Sun Angel Classic Saturday. Junior pole vaulter Casey Bowenagain flirted with history en route to the second victory of his season, while the men’s 4×400-meter relay team turned in their fastest time of the season and elevated their national rank to inside the top-15.
Two weeks removed from his career outing at the Texas Relays, Bowen again proved his name belongs near the top of the NCAA’s pole vault chart. A junior out of Gardner, Kan., Bowen broke the 18-foot barrier for the first time in his career at the meet in Austin, Texas on March 27, and came centimeters away from pulling it off for a second time in less than a month.
Bowen got his day started on the right foot with two quick clearances at 5.21 meters (17’1″) and 5.36 meters (17’7″). He then had to take all three tries at 5.46 meters (17’11”) but got over on his final attempt, which posted the second-highest mark of his career. No other competitor was able to equal Bowen’s top height, giving him his second win of his 2014 campaign. He did get three attempts at 5.56 meters (18’3″) but despite three near makes, was unable to add another clearance on the night. He came just inches away from getting over on two of his attempts, which would have made him the No. 7 performer in the school’s illustrious pole vaulting history.
Junior Kenneth McCuin had a career night on the Sun Angel Stadium track as he picked up the first outdoor event win of his collegiate career with the help of a personal best in the 400 meters. The Baltimore, Md., native led his race from the gun and leaned across the finish a quarter-mile later in 46.91. McCuin saw himself go below the 47-second mark for the first time, which made him the third Jayhawk over the last six years to break that barrier. McCuin’s time moved him to 11th on this year’s NCAA West Regional performance chart and to No. 1 on the Big 12 list.
Prior to Bowen’s stellar pole vault performance Saturday night, sophomore Nick Maestretti soared to a victory in the open division earlier in the afternoon. The Minden, Nev., product only needed five attempts to clear his first four bars on the day. Maestretti was then faced with a height of 5.18 meters (17’0″), which required all three of his attempts, however he managed to slide over the bar on his third trip down the runway, sealing his victory and rewriting his personal best. With Maestretti’s mark, Kansas has now seen five of its vaulters clear 17 feet or higher this outdoor season.
The Jayhawk men saw great outings from the their participants in both relay events. The 4×100-meter relay team led off the day and had Shawn Smith, Jaime Wilson, Michael Stigler and DeMario Johnson combined for an impressive season-opening time in the event. The foursome passed the baton around with little difficulty and featured the anchor, Johnson, hold off a strong charge by the UC Davis squad to pick up the victory. The group’s winning time of 40.63 put them among the all-important top-24 of the West Region ranks, which is what will be required to qualify for the NCAA Preliminary meet in six weeks.
Three of those four returned to the track later in the night and again teamed up for another solid performance. Joined by McCuin, who was fresh off his 400-meter victory, Stigler, Johnson and Wilson found themselves in a tight contest with formidable teams out of Arizona State and Texas A&M. The group managed to hang with those top-ranked teams in the race that produced three of the top-11 times in the nation this year.
Kansas went on to finish third in the race but clocked in at 3:07.14 to update their national standing to 11th and their Big 12 rank the second. Kansas’ season-best time was also more than two seconds-faster than their previous best, which they posted just seven days prior.
The Kansas women also saw several standout performances on the day. Anastasiya Muchkayev put the finishing touches on her first victory of the year in the shot put. The sophomore broke the 16-meter barrier for the first time in 2014 on her second attempt after she posted a throw of 16.02 meters (52’6¾”). The mark beat the runner-up finisher by just under a foot and moved Muchkayev up the national list to 23rd and 10th in the West Region.
Sophomore Daina Levy got things started in the morning in the open division discus. A Second Team All-American in the hammer throw, Levy recorded a new personal best on her fifth attempt of the day after hitting a mark of 51.54 meters (169’1″). Her throw topped the rest of the field by over five feet and gave her the seventh-best discus toss in the Big 12 this year.
A pair of distance specialists rewrote some personal bests of their own as sophomore Hannah Richardson and senior Natalie Becker competed in the premier division of the 1,500 meters. Richardson shaved nearly two seconds off her previous best to come across the finish as the third collegiate finisher with her time of 4:22.54. Becker was not far behind after she clocked in at 4:24.75 to take sixth.
Other Kansas victors during the two-day meet included freshman Whitney Adams, who won the open division 400 meters in 55.95, freshman Grace Morgan, who was the top-collegiate finisher in Friday night’s 5,000 meters in 17:33.95 and Tyler Yunk, who backed-up his female counterpart in the men’s 5,000 meters with his winning time of 15:15.23.
The Jayhawks will now open their brand new, state-of-the-art track facility at Rock Chalk Park when they return to Lawrence to host the 87th Kansas Relays April 16-19. Thousands of high school and collegiate athletes are set to compete for the first time during the four-day meet, with Saturday’s afternoon session slated to be televised on the Jayhawk Sports Network and ESPN3. Log on to KansasRelays.com for a schedule and additional information on one of the nation’s most historic track meets.
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