Friday, May 13, 2016

Athletes to watch at this weekend's Pac-12 track & field championships...

The University of Washington hosts the Pac-12 track and field championship meet Saturday and Sunday at Husky Track.  Action at Husky Track gets underway Saturday at 10 am with the men’s hammer, while the first track event starts at 1pm.

Here are some athletes with Washington ties you’ll want to watch this weekend along with some storylines:

—Hannah Cunliffe (Oregon/Federal Way HS): Cunliffe (left/photo by Paul Merca) gets the track portion of the meet underway Saturday as she will run on Oregon’s 4 x 100 relay.  Cunliffe is also entered in the 100 and 200 dashes, where she’s the conference and NCAA leader in the 100, and tied for second in the 200. Cunliffe’s time of 10.99 at 100m is currently the fifth fastest time in the world.  Oregon’s 4 x 100 relay has the third fastest time in the world this year, and is the collegiate leader at 42.68.

Will competing in front of friends and family, not to mention the report from an Italian publication that she may be switching nationalities be a distraction? Probably not.

—Jax Thoirs (Washington): Thoirs, the Pac-12 pole vault champ the last two years, looks to take his third conference crown, a feat only accomplished twice (by Brent Burns of Cal in 1989, 91-92, and by Oregon’s Tommy Skipper in 2004, 06-07), and the first to do it in three consecutive championships.

—Marcus Chambers (Oregon/Foss HS):  Chambers is the defending champion at 400 meters, and has a personal best of 44.95, set at last year’s USA championship meet.  Chambers, perhaps looking to peak in July at the US Olympic Trials, has a season best of 46.82, set in winning the Pepsi Invitational in April.  He could potentially be in a battle in the 400 with USC’s Ricky Morgan Jr, who leads the conference at 45.54. He’s also entered in the 200, where he’s ranked #4 in the conference, plus the relays.

—CJ Allen (WSU/North Mason HS):  Allen (left/photo by Paul Merca), who won the Pac-12 400 hurdles title two years ago in Pullman, is the conference leader at 50.16. He was injured last year, and wasn’t able to defend his title in Los Angeles.  He’ll go against 2015 champ Ben Thiel of Oregon, who’s run 52.45 this season, along with Stanford’s Jackson Shumway, and Colorado’s Jaron Thomas.

—Izaic Yorks (Washington/Lakes HS): Yorks, who won the Pac-12 title at 1500 in Los Angeles last year, looks to defend his title. He turned some heads nationally two weeks ago at the Payton Jordan Invite at Stanford when he beat a field that included several Olympians and world championships competitors, running 3:37.74.  Stanford’s Sean McGorty, who pressed Yorks in February at the MPSF indoor championships, will be Yorks’ biggest challenge.  Yorks is also entered in the 800, where UCLA’s Nick Hartle and Arizona’s Collins Kibet are the top two in the field.

—Tera Novy (USC/Montesano HS):  Novy enters the meet as the clear favorite in the discus, as she’s thrown a best of 200-5 (61.10m), almost seven feet further than the second best in the conference. Novy owns the Olympic A standard in that event, and while it’s too early to think about it, she could be a factor in July at the Olympic Trials.

If I had to pick only one race to watch in the entire meet, it’s the women’s 400 hurdles, featuring the Arizona duo of Nnenya Hailey and Sage Watson, against USC’s Jaide Stepter and Amalie Iuel, with the possibility that WSU’s Liz Harper could be dragged to a fast time.

On April 9th at the Jim Click Shootout in Tucson, Watson, who competed for Canada at the world championships in Beijing, ran the fastest time in the world at that distance, clocking 55.45 to Hailey’s 55.97, about 45 minutes after Hailey ran 12.96 in the 100 hurdles.

Meanwhile on the same day in Eugene, Stepter, who enters the meet as the two-time defending conference champion, ran 55.90, which was the second fastest time in the world. Iuel, who ran this event for Norway in Beijing last summer, was second in this event last year to Stepter, and won last week’s heptathlon.

Hailey improved her time to a collegiate leading 54.98 three weeks ago in Baton Rouge, currently the collegiate leader and the sixth fastest time in the world this year.

Throw in the mix WSU’s Liz Harper, who qualified for the NCAA championships in this event, and the  400 hurdles could be a precursor to both the NCAA West Regionals, and the NCAA finals, as Hailey, Watson, Stepter and Iuel made the finals in this event last year (Watson ran for Florida State last year, before transferring to Arizona). 

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