Sha’Keela Saunders remained an athlete to watch as the championship season nears, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Bowerman Award committee announced on Wednesday.
The Bowerman Award is collegiate track and field’s top individual honor.
Saunders found herself on a fourth-consecutive watch list after a stellar performance at the SEC Relays last weekend. The native of Suffolk, Virginia, notched a 22’3.5”/6.79-meter long jump mark in Baton Rouge, placing her second in the nation so far this season.
Saunders’s bigtime jump was a key factor in helping UK win the inaugural SEC jumps relay.
She spent the indoor season making multiple marks on the collegiate record book and came one centimeter from writing her name at the top with the final jump of her indoor collegiate career to win her first National Title.
Saunders took home the NCAA long jump with a leap of 22’7.75”/6.90m, breaking her own personal best that she set just weeks before at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships. Saunders’ new high mark places her in third on the all-time collegiate indoor list
Saunders reclaimed the SEC indoor long jump gold that she first won at home in 2015 at the conference meet, in February. She needed to reach the then No. 6 indoor mark in collegiate history — 22-feet, 4.5 inches/6.82 meters to win.
Living up to the conference’s well-earned formidable reputation as the SEC long jump was the most competitive in indoor collegiate history as three collegians passed 22 feet in the same meet for the first time, per USTFCCCA records. Alabama’s defending champion Quanesha Burks, receiving votes on this month’s watch list, was the runner-up with a mark of 22’2.25”/6.76m, and fellow pre-NCAA Championships watch list member Keturah Orji (Georgia) was third with a mark of 22’0.75”/6.72m.
Saunders opened up with the best long jump in the history of the month of December: 22’1”/6.73m.
The Bowerman, which debuted in 2009, is presented annually by the USTFCCCA and considered the most prestigious individual award in collegiate track and field.
Past winners include twice Olympic gold medalist, World Champion and decathlon world-record holder Ashton Eaton, marathon and 10,000-meter Olympic medalist Galen Rupp (2009), 2011 IAAF World Champion at 1500 meters Jenny Simpson (2009), 2016 100-meter hurdles Olympic gold medalist Brianna Rollins (2013) and 2016 Olympic high jump gold medalist Derek Drouin (2013).
Former Oregon head coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, who the award is named for, served the sport of track and field in numerous ways. His leadership in the USTFCCCA’s predecessor organization, the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association, and his contributions to NCAA track and field and the running community as a whole are among his many lasting legacies.
The Bowerman Women’s Watch List:
2017 Pre-Conference Championship Edition
(Click student-athletes’ names for their TFRRS page)
St. Francis, Minn.
New Orleans, La.
Mount Olive, N.J.
Signal Hill, Calif.
Also Receiving Votes: Chrisann Gordon (Texas), Elinor Purrier (New Hampshire)
NEXT: May 17
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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