May 11, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Led by two gold-medal performances from Antonio James in the discus and Leah O'Connor in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Michigan State continued to pick up speed on the second day of competition at the Big Ten Championships. Held at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, the Spartans advanced eight athletes to Sunday's finals. The women are now in seventh place with 23 points, while the men sit in eighth with 17 points.
"I thought the women competed really well," said director of track & field/cross country Walt Drenth. "We got a lot of people through that we needed to. This is an important day, not for the score at the end of the second day, but for who's going to be able to continue to run. We have people at the 100-meters, 200-meters, 400-meters, which is important for us because that's how we will accumulate points tomorrow. If all goes well, we've got big points coming in the triple jump and discus. It's going to be those events that are going to be really critical. From my standpoint, I'm optimistic on the women's side that we've done what we needed to do to put ourselves in a position to be successful at the end of the meet. I felt like the guys competed well in pockets. Ben did an excellent job in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. But some of our young kids acted like young kids. I think we've got some maturing to do on the guys side. But that's our job as coaches is to teach them to be a little bit more mature. The energy hasn't gotten contagious on the men's side, but it has gotten contagious on the women's side."
Defending her 2012 3,000-meter steeplechase title, redshirt sophomore Leah O'Connor pushed ahead in the last 200-meters to earn the win. She won her second-straight gold medal honor by shaving 10 seconds off her personal-best time, clocking a 9:53.53. The mark moves her into third in the NCAA East Region and fifth in the nation. O'Connor has now won every Big Ten steeplechase that she has competed in as a Spartan.
"She was trailing the leaders last year and came from behind," Drenth said. "You could kind of see the leader falter a little bit, and Leah finishes well. I thought her advantage through the course of the race was the water and frankly the whole thing turned at the water. The woman from Nebraska fell into the water, and that was that. The pace was torrid early and probably too fast for both of them. Leah was smart enough to back off early in order to be able to keep running her legs. I thought she did a really nice job. She knew from experience that all you have to do is give yourself a chance and that's what she did."
Among a highly competitive field, redshirt sophomore Antonio James beat out the rest of the Big Ten with his last attempt in the finals to win gold. He threw for a mark of 58.25m/ 191-1 to earn his first gold medal at Big Tens, second of his career.
"A.J. was a tremendous competitor," said Drenth. "To record two fouls in the final and Coach Newell goes to talk with him and he says, `Coach, I've got this' and proceeds to win. You just can't teach that stuff. That's just stuff that comes from someone who understands the art and necessity of competition. The discus was tremendous. It's probably as good of an event there is from a national perspective as any event in the Big Ten this year."
Redshirt senior Lonnie Pugh also scored points in the stacked discus event, placing sixth overall with a mark of 56.65m/ 188-10.
With a fourth-place finish in the women's pole vault, redshirt sophomore Sarah Birkmeier earned points for the Spartans as she earned a personal record mark of 4.02m/13-2¼. Redshirt junior Amanda Impellizzeri also scored points by placing eighth overall with a mark of 3.92m/ 12-10¼.
Scoring points in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase, redshirt junior Ben Miller placed sixth overall with a time of 9:00.53.
Michigan State advanced several athletes to the finals held on the final of competition on Sunday.
Westney will also compete in the finals of both the 100 and 200-meter dash. She clocked a career-best time of 11.74 in the trials of the 100-meter dash to place eighth overall. With a time of 23.96, she finished ninth in the 200-meter dash trials.
Evans will join Westney in the finals of the 200-meter dash as she posted a time of 23.87 to place eighth in the trials.
Two Spartans will compete in the finals of the 400-meter dash as sophomore Tori Franklin posted a time of 54.95 to place sixth and redshirt senior Alysson Bodenbach finished ninth with a time of 55.72.
Sophomore Jaelynn Pryor advanced to the finals of the 400-meter hurdles, recording a time of 59.90 to place eighth overall in the trials.
In the men's 800-meter run, redshirt senior Joe Banyai extended his Big Ten career by advancing to the finals with a career-best time of 1:49.25 to place seventh overall.
"Joe did a great job," said Drenth. "He's been here before. He made the final last year and didn't score, but I think that's going to give him motivation tomorrow."
"We given ourselves a chance, now we have to finish the job," said Drenth. "I think it's something we're ready to do. I think the people that are competing tomorrow, regardless of gender, are certainly going to do a great job. Some of them will have very busy days - Jellisa will be competing all day, she won't take her spikes off. Tori will be busy and Leah will come back and run the 5,000. So having company in that, I believe will give them a little bit of an energy boost. The other kids who have a chance to compete in the 5,000, the shot put and the pole vault those are important things. I know Jarred is going to do a great job in the triple jump. We have a lot to look forward to. But they are going to need to make hard choices to engage, to be fearless, to not think and just be athletes. Those are the things that we need them to do tomorrow, and if they do I'll be excited about the outcome."
The Spartans will conclude competition at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium tomorrow with events schedule to begin at 11 a.m.