The Kansas State women’s track and field team is your 2018 Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Champion, successfully defending the title won last year.
This is the first back-to-back conference title wins since the women won the conference in 2001 and 2002. Kansas State is also the only back-to-back champion in Big 12 history ever, with the exception of now-departed Texas A&M, where the women’s team won the title every year from 2007 to 2011.
The women’s team finished with 135 points, just four points ahead of runner-up Texas. This is the third closest finish in Big 12 history. The Wildcats went wire-to-wire atop the scoreboard, opening up the scoring with a dominant performance in the hammer throw—led by Big 12 champion Janee’ Kassanavoid—on Day 1. A strong performance on Day 2, especially from heptathletes Ariel Okorie, Lauren Taubert, along with a silver medal for Shadae Lawrence in discus, had helped the Wildcats solidify the lead heading into Day 3 of competition.
Podium finishes in the high jump for Rhizlane Siba (3rd), Nina Schultz (5th) and Clare Gibson (6th) gave Kansas State 13 points to add to their overall lead. This was followed by Jess St. John, Taylor Latimer, and Gabby Lavington going 2-6-7 in the shot put for another 13 points, and triple jumpers Konstantina Romaiou and Shardia Lawrence finishing 3rd and 4th for 11 point to keep the Wildcats in the lead. The 4x100 relay squad of Akia Guerrier, A’Keyla Mitchell, Ranae McKenzie, and Claudette Allen came in second to add some cushion, and Sydney Collins added 3 points in the 1500m finals.
But the lead was not safe for long. Texas—quiet for much of the weekend—moved back into second place on the strength of events where the Wildcats were not even a factor.
It took Ranae McKenzie smoking the field in the 400m hurdles to win her first-ever Big 12 title to really cement Kansas State’s lead. Her time of 56.06 was a new facility record and earned the Wildcats a much-needed 10 points. Teammate Lauren Taubert finished sixth to add three more points.
At that point, with 18 events scored, Kansas State was leading by just four, and a DQ for A’Keyla Mitchell in the 200m finals didn’t help. But Morgan Wedekind added four points in the 5000m finals, and in the day’s final event, the Wildcats’ 4x400 relay team (McKenzie, Schultz, Taubert, and Mitchell) were able to get three points to stay ahead of Texas in the final tally. The 135 points scored is the most in program history.
The men’s team was also in the lead after two days of competition, thanks largely to silver medal performances from Aaron Booth (decathlon) and Mitch Dixon (hammer throw), along with podium finishes for Tejaswin Shankar, Natron Gipson (high jump), Jullane Walker, Tom Pyle (long jump), and Colton Donahue (3000m steeplechase). The Wildcats initially stayed on top on Day 3. To start the day, the 4x100 relay team of Nick Albus, Terrell Smith, Jullane Walker, and Tom Pyle finished fifth and built on Kansas State’s narrow lead. But with no Wildcats competing in the pole vault, 1500m finals, or the 110m hurdles, the lead evaporated quickly and Texas, and then Texas Tech, stormed into first place.
By now, the Wildcats were in third place, and Brett Neelly’s strong finish (4th) in men’s discus added five points to Kansas State’s total. Travis Hodge finished fifth in the 800m finals, and Terrell Smith tore it up in the 200m race to take silver and added eight points for the Wildcats. The 4x400 relay squad (Nick Albus, Shankar, Davie Freeman II, and Kurt Loevenstein) chopped two seconds off their own season-best time and added two more points to bring the Wildcats’ grand total up to 101.
This was good for third place overall, the best finish for the men’s team in Big 12 history. The 101 points scored were also the most for Kansas State since 1997, the first year of Big 12 competition.
All in all, the 2018 Big 12 Outdoor Track Championships represented maybe the best collective performance by Kansas State ever. If the women’s team won last year by dominating certain events, this year, it was a team effort. With only two women winning Big 12 titles in individual events, it took 20 other scores in the meet, including five athletes who scored in multiple events, to retain the title. On the men’s side too, where not a single Kansas State athlete actually won a Big 12 title, it took some clutch performances and an astonishing collective effort to gain the program’s best-ever finish.
As an elated Cliff Rovelto noted later,
[The Big 12] is a tough conference and winning a title isn’t easy, but what both our teams did this weekend, it was one of the best experiences as a coach.
The competition is not quite over for the TrackCats though. In two weeks, the teams are headed to Sacramento for the 2018 NCAA Division I Track and Field West Preliminary. But for now, let’s just enjoy some well-earned celebration!