Track & Field
Leah O'Connor Wins Third-Straight Steeple at Big Ten Championships
May 17, 2014
WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana - Four Spartans won Big Ten medals on the second day of competition at the Big Ten Championships on Saturday at Purdue University. Leah O'Connor (3,000m steeplechase), Kurt Schneider (decathlon), Antonio James (discus) and Tim Canfield (pole vault) each earned a spot on the podium to boost Michigan State into fifth place on the men's side with 23 points and eighth on the women's side with 16 points.
"You come to Saturday, you have a few finals, but mostly what you're doing is setting yourself up for Sunday," said director of track & field/cross country Walt Drenth. "I thought we did a nice job. In almost every place we thought we would get people through or needed to get people through, we did. I have no complaints. We set ourselves up to score some points tomorrow. We've got people in a lot of events. We've got to start with relays and perform well. We've got to kind of move up the ladder as we go. It seemed like we're starting to get the message as a group - the importance of getting into competition. Tomorrow's an important day for us, but we've got people in the fight. The fact that we got people through to the finals will be vital to the outcome at the end. We talk about how the strength of our program has got to be what happens at the end of the meet. That will be the tell. Those last three events will be what defines us. If we compete like crazy then, at the hardest time of the meet, then I'll be really pleased."
Redshirt junior Leah O'Connor owned the 3,000-meter steeplechase, winning her third-straight title in the event. She took a commanding lead right out the gate and never let it go, crossing the finish line in 10:06.10. After taking over second place, redshirt sophomore Katie Landwehr was taken down on the second-to-last barrier. However, she rose to her feet and finished 19th with a time of 11:08.02.
"Leah's championship was big," said Drenth. "Obviously, it was important for us to get those points. She's the best steepler in the conference, if not one of the best in the country. She did essentially what was required to win. She's an exceptional competitor, she has great poise and I thought it was a veteran run. For someone who understood what needed to be done and what kind of effort was necessary, I thought she did a fantastic job. It was very disappointing to see Katie get knocked down with essentially 250-meters to go, but she was in the fight. She followed her race plan well and that's the message we've been trying to send the team."
Earning a grand total & personal record of 7,431 points, redshirt senior Kurt Schneider won the silver medal in the decathlon. With a four-meter personal record, Schneider won the discus event with a monster throw of 45.35m/ 148-9. In the 110-meter hurdles, he finished fourth with a time of 15.08. He went on to finish sixth in the pole vault, clearing a mark of 4.20m/ 13-9¼. Schneider placed seventh in the javelin with a throw of 51.20m/ 168-0. He closed out the day with a third-place finish in the 1,500-meter run, clocking a time of 4:49.44.
"I thought he did a great job," said assistant coach Ceith Creekmur. "The biggest thing he's learned as he's advanced through the years, but especially this year, is how to put events in the past and move onto the next thing. We had some events that didn't go very well, but at this point, he's matured a lot and been able to compartmentalize those bad things but keep momentum going when they're going well. That's something you have to learn. So he did a good job of moving on and focusing on the next task. "
Stepping up for the Spartans and winning a bronze medal in the pole vault was junior Tim Canfield, who hit a major personal-best mark of 5.20m/ 17-0¾ to punch his ticket to the NCAA Regionals.
"One of the things that fits well with Tim (Canfield) is to compete and have no fear. What helps Tim out a lot is that he was able to move up poles, didn't question those decisions and completely committed to the jumps and I think that's ultimately what led to a big performance from him. He just went with it and fully committed himself without fear."
Redshirt junior Antonio James took bronze in the discus, winning his fourth Big Ten medal of his career. On his last throw, he moved into third place with a throw of 59.83m/ 196-3.
"A.J. was outstanding," said Drenth. "He was really kind of struggling to get in sync with the discus with his last throw in the preliminary getting him into the final, and then climbing up on the podium. It's vintage AJ. He knows what to do in these situations. I was really proud of him for that."
Junior Tori Franklin won the prelims of the 400-meter dash to automatically qualify for the finals with a personal record of 53.47.
In the prelims of the women's 1,500-meter run, O'Connor finished first overall with a time of 4:24.57 to advance to Sunday's final. Also qualifying was redshirt sophomore Sara Stassen, who clocked a time of 4:30.70 to finish 11th overall.
MSU will be well-represented in the finals of the women's 200-meter dash as three Spartans earned qualifying times. Junior Alicia Evans led the pack with a fourth-place finish and a time of 23.79. In eighth place was junior Jellisa Westney with a time of 24.19, while junior TeJuanna Williams finished ninth overall with a time of 24.23.
"I thought the women sprinters were outstanding," said Drenth. "I think they're finally gaining the confidence that coach Gillon has had in them all along."
With a seventh-place finish in the prelims of the 100-meter dash, Westney posted a time of 11.79 to advance to Sunday's finals. Also finishing seventh and qualifying for the finals in the 400-meter hurdles was senior Jaelynn Pryor with a time of 1:00.37.
Two Spartan men qualified for the 200-meter finals as Parsons clocked a personal-best time of 10.62 for eighth and Whitelow finished ninth with a time of 10.63.
Crossing the finish line with a time of 41.04 and a sixth-place finish, the men's 4x100-meter relay team of junior DeVantré Whitelow, junior Ross Parsons, sophomore Austin Sanders, David Washington advanced to compete in Sunday's final.
In the long jump, junior Jarred Gambrell led the Spartan men with a season-best mark of 7.10m/ 23-3½ to place 10th overall. He was followed by freshman Reggie Ferrell, who posted a personal record of 6.63m/ 21-9 to finish 17th.
In the heptathlon, sophomore Tory Schiller tied for 11th overall in the heptathlon with 4,240 points. She hit a mark of 5.19m/ 17-0½ to place 11th in the long jump. She also threw for a mark of 27.63m/ 90-8 to finish 10th in the javelin, before concluding the competition with a time of 2:36.20 in the 800-meter run.
The Spartans will conclude competition at the conference meet on Sunday beginning with the women's triple jump scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Rankin Track & Field.
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