Three hundred meters just isn't far enough for hurdlers Eric Futch and Shamier Little.
Sure, they're state champs at that distance in their respective states of Pennsylvania and Illinois, but it's when you add on that extra 100 with barriers that they really thrive.
"You can come back and make up ground," said Futch, the Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.) senior.
Futch and Little powered to men's and women's 400 meter hurdle titles, respectively, Saturday during the second day of action at the USATF Junior Nationals, and they each did so in nation-leading and PR times. Futch's 50.73 beat his own US#1 from the prelims, while Little's 57.44 topped her previous best from last summer.
Those were arguably the two top performances by preps on another outstanding day for high schoolers aspiring to make Team USA for the World Juniors next month in Barcelona. On the track, Ajee Wilson NJ (2:04.86) and Danielle Aragon MT (US#4 2:05.06) went 1-2 in the women's 800, while Tanner Sork WA was second in the men's 800 (1:49.57). More runner-up spots were earned by Cayla Hatton (16:24.87 5k) and Dior Hall CO (US#4 13.45 100H, -1.8w). Wilson, Sork and Hatton were all US#1s coming in.
On the field, Jarrion Lawson TX completed a men's horizontal jumps double with 51-3.75 (+0.5w) triple jump victory, while Robin Reynolds FL topped a great field in the women's long jump at 20-5.75 (+0.1w). And Kendell Williams GA claimed the lead after the first four events of the heptathlon with 3,431 points, just 37 points off her PR pace from Great Southwest. All three topped the national lists entering Saturday.
Saturday's prelims, namely in the 200 and 400, saw all of the top prep contenders advance. In the men's 400, US#1 Aldrich Bailey and #2 Arman Hall each won their heats, while LJ-winner and previous 400 US#1 Reynolds and her 2011 World Youth teammate Kendall Baisden did the same in the women's 400. US#1 Shayla Sanders FL led four preps into the women's 200 final, while Friday's 100 champ Tyreek Hill was among those winning and moving into the men's 200 final.
400 hurdlers rule
Making the transition from 300H to 400H is hardly the only storyline that impacted Futch's seasonal arc as he prepared for this meet. Futch had suffered a disqualification in his regional meet prior to the state finals and his appeal to be reinstated made national headlines. After winning the 200 and 300H, and anchoring his school's 4x400 team to victory at the May 25-26 state meet, the Houston-bound senior did what he had to do.
"I took off a week and a half, then came back to train for this," he said.
"The 300 hurdles is like a sprint, there's no waiting," he said. "The 400 hurdles is more of a strength event."
Meanwhile, Little trailed collegian Kayla Barber of Notre Dame by more than 10 meters entering the stretch. "When I started off, I was kind of nervous," she said. "I lost my form at one point … but when I got to 150 to go, I just gave all I had to the finish."
Yes, Lindblom Prep (Chicago) junior likes the longer race as well. "With the 300 hurdles, it's like I'm almost there, but I need that extra 100," she said. Little was also running with a lot of motivation to make her first international team. "I didn't make World Youth last year and I was really disappointed about that."
She did go on, however, to clean up at the AAU JOs, including a US#2 57.83 victory in her specialty. This was the first time she'd been able to run the longer race again since then.
The women's 100 hurdle title was also decided Saturday, with the prelims early in the afternoon and the finals several hours later. In the second heat, Trinity Wilson CA and Dior Hall CO met for the first time since Hall won the New Balance Nationals Indoor title in March. Wilson just came back from a broken toe injury the previous weekend and she ran 13.76 to Hall's 13.48 in the prelim. US#1 Sasha Wallace CA also ran 13.48 to win the third heat as she and Hall qualified third and fourth behind two collegians.
In the final, that top collegian – Morgan Snow of Texas – ran 13.26 into a 1.8 headwind. Hall held best behind her, running US#4 13.45 to rebuff Wilson's challenge (13.52), while Wallace was fifth in 13.55.
Another expected showdown, Cayla Hatton MA against Erin Finn MI in the women's 5,000, didn't really evolve as expected due in part to a few very dramatic strategic moves. Hatton led the race, in very warm conditions, with a pair of laps around 80 seconds to start, but made a massive move the next two laps, covering the next 800 in about 2:26 to pass the 1,600 in 5:06. It looked like she might destroy the field and run way under 16:00, but a few laps later, she started going over 80 seconds again and it was clear the move was too hard.
Finn was running in a pack of three, trailing Hatton by 15 seconds at 2,800 meters. At 3,000, collegian Allison Woodward of Oregon made a decisive move and began eating up the margin between her and Hatton. Woodward started running just over 5:00 pace herself and by 4,200 passed the Andover senior. She won in 16:15.27 to Hatton's 16:24.87, both making Team USA. Finn was not able to respond to Woodward's move and took fourth in 16:58.77. "I don't know what happened," she said afterward. "That was the worst race I've had."
Reynolds and Williams impress
The women's long jump began as a litany of fouls and short jumps, with prime contenders Sydney Conley, Kendell Williams, and Robin Reynolds all experiencing difficulties. But Reynolds would finally pull it together best for her 20-5.75 winner. "I wanted to come in and hit it on my first jump, but it didn't work out that way," she said. "But I kept working at it and finally got the jump I needed." She had to skip her final two jumps to go to the 400 prelims, where she won her heat in 53.24 – then spent a lot of time in the medical tent. "I was just dehydrated, that's all. In the 400, I just wanted to make it back to the final."
Jasmine Gibbs CA actually was the most consistent jumper out there, hitting between 19-11 and 20-3.5 (+0.2w) on five of her jumps. But collegian Le'Tristan Pledger leapt 20-5.25 (+1.2w) on her fifth attempt and moved into second. "I was happy with my series," said Gibbs, even though she clearly was dismayed by the final result.
Williams finished fourth at 19-10.75 (+0.7w), while Conley had two jumps of less than 19 feet and a foul, not even making the final. "It was just one of those days," she said with a rueful smile. "My training's been good and I felt fine, but I wasn't on the board right."
Actually, Williams didn't get the full series she really wanted, either. Williams is used to juggling her multis and a few other events, but the way the schedule worked out was tough even for her. She had to interrupt her long jumping for the heptathlon high jump, going back and forth, and then the prelims for the open 100 hurdles popped up before either of those field events was finished. It was too much, so she scratched the hurdles … and she never got a sixth jump.
Still, once Williams could focus solely on the final heights of the heptathlon HJ, she cleared 5-11.5, close to her all-time best. Added to a 13.73 hept 100H to start the day, a 32-3.75 shot and a 24.82 200 (-0.6w), she scored a very solid 3,431 for the first-day lead and just 37 points shy of her PR pace from Great Southwest.
"It was the craziest day ever," she said with a smile afterward. "I just couldn't get to the 100 hurdles (open prelims). I've never had to go back and forth like that."
The first day lead in the men's decathlon was taken by DyeStat Alum and Arkansas frosh Gunnar Nixon, who got 7-1.5 on his high jump and scored 4,062.
In the men's triple jump, Liberty-Eylau (Texarkana, Texas) senior Jarrion Lawson backed up his super 5A state meet double and showed perseverance in coming back after a long layoff to leap 51-3.75 (+0.5) to win a tight battle. Lawson fouled his first two attempts, then got a "safe" 49-10.5. On his first jump of the finals, he popped his winner.
"I've done of few little summer meets, but I've mostly just been working on my technique, so this is really my first big meet since state," said Lawson, who noted that weight room work on his slender frame has been huge in his improvement in 2012. "But I had no doubt I could come here and win both. My problem is getting on my mark. I have to slow down, so I fouled my first two. On the fourth jump, I really let loose."
In other field event action, Madeline Morrow OH was the top prep in the women's high jump, taking third on misses at 5-8.75. Her former rival now at University of Florida, Taylor Burke, won with 5-10.75. Thomas Anderson MN finished best among high schoolers with the junior weight men's shot, hitting 61-0.25 for fifth.
And in the women's hammer, DyeStat alum Shelby Ashe, who won many national titles with the hammer and weight as a prep and still competes for Throw 1 Deep, smashed her own American Junior record with a 223-6 and moves up to #2 in the world as she made her second U.S. junior squad.
Bailey, Hill look impressive in prelims
Coffee County (Douglas, Ga.) senior Tyreek Hill, coming off Friday's 100 meter triumph, was more impressive Saturday for what he didn't do in the 200 prelims. All but slowing to a walk in the final 40 meters, he still won his heat in 21.35 (-0.2w). LSU's Aaron Ernest was the top qualifier in 20.96 (-1.5) from another heat, while Marcus Chambers WA had the best time by a prep with 21.08 in taking second behind Ernest.
Timberview (Mansfield, Texas) senior Aldrich Bailey TX, the US#1 at 45.19, put in a fairly strong effort himself in the 400 prelims and led all qualifiers to Sunday's final with a 45.93. St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) senior Arman Hall also did his part in setting up the much-anticipated showdown by taking his heat in 46.73.
Collegians played a more prominent role in the women's 400 and 200 prelims. Robin Reynolds FL won her prelim (noted above) and her 2011 World Youth teammate, Kendall Baisden MI, looked like she's finally rounding into form after a late winter injury as she hit 53.15 to win another heat. But collegians Ashley Spencer of Illinois and Erika Rucker of South Carolina won the other two heats and, with the day's best times and impressive NCAA creds behind them, will be tough to beat.
Similarly, 100 champ Dezerea Bryant of Clemson ruled the 200 prelims with a 23.31 in the second heat and Texas A&M's Olivia Ekpone looked strong in winning the third in 23.61. But US#1 prep Shayla Sanders FL, who just missed making the 100 team by .01, won the first heat and will hope for redemption in Sunday's final.