At long last, Sha’Keela Saunders rose to the top of the NCAA long jump podium.
Runner-up in the long jump at the NCAA Championships each of the past two years indoors, and three times overall (including the silver she took at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships as a freshman), she finally broke through on Friday.
But if Saunders’ star-crossed history at the NCAA meet proved anything, it was that she’d need a historic performance to finally take home gold from the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships held at Texas A&M’s Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium. As prepared as ever to reach deeper than she’d ever conceived, on Friday she finally reaped the reward.
Leaving the brightest fireworks for the last round, she exploded to a 22-feet, 7.75-inch/6.90-meter mark on the final attempt of the competition to take gold with the third-farthest indoor jump ever by a collegian, and the seventh best by any American.
It was a quarter of an inch/one centimeter shy of the Whitney Gipson’s five-year-old collegiate record.
“Finally broke that pattern of finishing second,” Saunders said. “I just had this fire in me. I was sitting in second place going into the last jump. I said ‘you know, we’ve been here before. It doesn’t feel good so we’ve got to do something about this.’ I had faith, and I went out there and jumped, held my fingers together to wait for the mark and then cheered because I received the victory.”
Saunders had taken the lead in round two with a 21’11.75”/6.70m before defending champion Quanesha Burks of Alabama passed her late in the fifth round with a leap of 22’0.75”/6.72m.
Saunders became the first NCAA Champion in the women’s long jump in school history. Bill Lightsey won the men’s long jump in 1971.
Duckworth’s career-day places him atop day-one heptathlon standings
Tim Duckworth produced personal bests, either absolute or for the heptathlon, in all four events on Friday.
His 3,594 day-one points are 55 points ahead of his PR pace, recorded in early February. He holds an 86-point lead on second place, reigning NCAA Decathlon Champion Lindon Victor of Texas A&M.
The junior entered Friday fresh, having elected to compete in three individual events at the Southeastern Conference Championships two weeks ago, instead of the heptathlon, in which he ranked sixth entering having set the British record 6,006 points in early February. He had a great SEC meet, placing fourth in the long jump and high jump and seventh in the pole vault to score 12 points.
The heptathlon continues on Saturday at noon with the 60m hurdles, to be followed by the pole vault and then the 1,000 meters.
Team standings snapshot
Saunders scored 10 points in the only final Kentucky had on Friday. Destiny Carter just missed the long jump final, by less than an inch.
UK is tied with Colorado and Missouri in sixth place. Georgia has the day-one lead with 41 points. Alabama is second with 16, Arkansas and Michigan are tied-third with 12 and Ole Miss has 11.
UK will have five women’s entries on Saturday.
Kentucky’s two entries in the men’s team competition, which Oregon leads with 17 points, each had strong Fridays.
As aforementioned Duckworth is off to a brilliant heptathlon start, while Nick Anderson ran a PR 7.69 seconds to advance to the 60m hurdles final as the third fastest qualifier.
Saunders won the sixth NCAA individual title of head coach Edrick Floréal’s tenure, and 11th women’s individual NCAA track championship in school history. Across both genders, UK has 21 NCAA individual track champions all-time.
Women’s prelims advancers
Two Wildcats advanced to Saturday track finals on the women’s side.
Javianne Oliver won the second women’s 60-meter prelim to qualify for Saturday’s 5:20 p.m. ET final. Oliver’s time of 7.14 seconds was second to Hannah Cunliffe of Oregon, who won the first heat in 7.13 seconds. Oliver’s time was a PR improving her grip on the No. 2 performer spot in school history as Dezerea Bryant’s school record is 7.12 set at the 2014 NCAA indoor meet.
Jasmine Camacho-Quinn advanced to the women’s 60m hurdles final with the seventh-fastest time of the prelims, The final is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.
ESPN3 will stream the meet live on Saturday starting at 4:55 p.m. ET. The Championships will be shown on ESPN2 as a condensed show on Sunday, March 12 starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Kentucky doubled its entries on both the men’s and women’s sides from a year ago.
The top-16 declared entries, and top-12 declared relay teams from marks recorded this season qualified for the Championships.
The top-eight scorers in each of the 17 events on the men’s and women’s sides will score points by virtue of their place finish on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
The Kentucky women’s team placed 12th at the NCAA Indoor Championships last season, while the men did not earn a team score.
UKTF at NCAA Indoor Championships Schedule and results
Friday, March 10 Results
Men’s Heptathlon 60M
1. Tim Duckworth: 6.77 (966 points) PR
Hept Long Jump
2. Duckworth: 25’6″/7.77m(1,0002 points) PR for a heptathlon LJ
Hept Shot Put
11. Duckworth: 42’11.5″/13.09m (673 points) PR
Hept High Jump
1. Duckworth: 7’1″/2.16m (953 points) T-PR
Hept Day One Total
1. Duckworth: 3594 points (+86 on field)(+55 on PR)
2. Javianne Oliver: 7.14Q (PR, No. 2 UK)
11. Kianna Gray: 7.31
7. Jasmine Camacho-Quinn: 8.06q
3. Nick Anderson: 7.69Q (PR)
1. Sha’Keela Saunders: 22’7.75″/6.90m
10. Destiny Carter: 20’7.25″/6.28m
13. Jasmine Camacho-Quinn: 23.38
15. Kianna Gray: 23.47
Saturday, March 11
Marie-Josée Ebwea-Bile, Saunders
The most up-to-date coverage of the UK track and field program is available via @KentuckyTrack handles on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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