WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Purdue women wrapped up their best Big Ten Championships in 13 years, while the men finished with their best finish since 2009 at the Rankin Track and Field on Sunday.
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It came down to the final event on each side, the 4×400-meter relay, and the women moved up to third, while the men claimed fifth with exciting finishes.
“We had our seniors really step up and compete in a big way today for us,” head coach Lonnie Greene said. “That is what gave us the extra ‘oomph’ we needed to get us to third, which is one of the better finishes we have had in a long time here.
“The efforts this group put in all weekend is what will help us get better and build towards getting to the next level.”
The women’s team was sitting in sixth place with 81 points heading into the mile relay, one point behind Iowa, two points behind Michigan State and four points behind Michigan. Taylor Morrison took the lead leg and put the Boilermakers out front with Penn State. Aarin Jones had the second leg and held the team’s position, before Kari Shoolbraid, the school’s 800m school record holder, took the baton. She ran a strong leg, but Purdue fell back and was in the upper half heading to the final leg. BreAnna Smith took the handoff and ran a smooth first 300m.
Down the final stretch, she jetted past two or three teams to take second place, edging Minnesota by 0.26 of a second. The Purdue team ran a time of 3:34.81 in front of screaming coaches, alumni, teammates and fans, to break the 27-year old school record of 3:35.35 held by Jamie McNeair, Cestie Rhule, Dawn Benedict and now-assistant coach Angela Goodman. The second-place finish earned the Boilermakers eight points for a total of 89, 52 more than at last year’s event, which edged Iowa and Michigan’s 86 and Michigan State’s 85.
“I looked at the scores going into the relay,” Greene added. “I told the women we had to keep Michigan at our back no matter what. We had to beat Iowa and Michigan State. I knew we had a better relay team than a lot of teams out there, so I told them that we just had to do what we have to do to secure third place and we did it.”
The men were in a similar situation. They were tied for fifth place with Ohio State at 74 points apiece, and two points behind Penn State. Obokhare Ikpefan, Andrew Kendrick and Andre Peart ran the first three legs and the Boilermakers were at the back of their heat. Then Raheem Mostert, a 100m and 200m specialist, took the stick. He ran a smooth 300m, but was still at the back of the pack. Then came his favorite part: the home stretch.
Mostert blistered past all but two teams, Illinois and Nebraska, to take third in the heat and fourth overall with a time of 3:09.49, and earn the men five points. The finish was good enough to move one point ahead of Penn State, but the Buckeyes took third in the relay and fourth overall, edging Purdue by a point. The Purdue men finished with 79 points, 43 better than a year ago.
Mostert’s performance in the anchor leg of the 4x400m was made even more impressive by the fact that he had already ran in three championship events. The junior two-sport athlete began the day with the anchor leg of the 4x100m relay at 12:55 p.m. He took the baton from Eric Harris, after teammates Tyler Askew and Andrew Kendrick ran the first two legs, in the final 100m at the back of the pack. Mostert ran past at several teams, including Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State in the final stretch, and came within just 0.03 of a second of gold medal-winning Iowa.
After the 4x100m, Mostert was back on the track at 1:55 for the 100m dash finals. He entered with the top qualifying time, 10.28 seconds, and was in the middle lane. Despite not starting as well as he would have liked, the Big Ten indoor champion in the 60m and 200m pulled away from the field in the final 20 meters to win by 0.15 of a second with a time of 10.30 seconds.
He didn’t have much time to celebrate.
Mostert took the track again at 2:42, just 47 minutes after the 100m. He was again in lane five after qualifying with the top 200m time, a mark of 20.75 seconds. Mostert led from gun to tape, pulling away at the end, with a time of 20.66 seconds to win his third medal, and second gold medal, of the day. Mostert’s time ranks fourth in program history, moving ahead of fellow two-sport star Jacques Reeves, and 29th in the country this season. He earned 20 points on his own, and was part of 13 more in the relays.
Purdue had huge performances across the board on Sunday, including a total of 11 individual medals and two relay medals.
The women’s triple jump kept Boilermaker fans on the edge of their seats as Nikki Nunn was in seventh and Cierra Brownwas in fifth heading into their final jumps. Nunn leapt a personal record 12.53m (41-01.50) on her last attempt to move up a spot to sixth. Brown went even bigger. She leapt an outdoor PR and the third-best jump in Purdue school history to climb onto the podium with a bronze medal finish. The excitement could be seen, and heard, around the track from Brown and event coach Chris Huffins. Nunn’s three points in the triple jump gave her a total of 13 points on the weekend, as she won the long jump on Saturday.
Purdue parked itself on the podium in the high hurdles as well. Ciana Tabb was first, as she hung with some of the best in the country and took third with a personal record time of 13.34 seconds, the second-fastest time in Purdue school history and the 29th best in the country. Brandon Winters also took the bronze as he fought his way to a time of 13.86 seconds. Winters didn’t get out to the start he wanted, but battled towards the end, including a dive across the finish line. He missed second place by 0.01 of a second.
Jessica Harter was a great story in the pole vault. The sophomore came in with a PR of 3.90m (12-9.50), which was 14thin the Big Ten. She left with a PR of 4.08m (13-04.50) and a bronze medal. Harter cleared her first two bars up to 3.83m (12-06.75) on her first attempt. Her first setback came at 3.98m (13-00.75), as she hit the bar on her first attempt. On her next try though, she got up and over to make it into the final 11. Her next jump would be one that she called the best jump of her life. On Harter’s first attempt at 4.08m (13-04.50), she barely grazed the bar on the way down, but it stayed up, giving her the clearance. The mark is the fourth-best in Purdue school history, and she is the first to crack the top five since 2010. Harter was one of just four to clear the bar, and ended up with a bronze medal.
“We had a great day on our home track,” Harter said. “I was hoping to maybe score a point or two. Third place was definitely a big surprise, but I did have a really good day which was super exciting. It was my first attempt at (4.08m/13-04.50) and I was just trying really hard to focus on taking advantage of every opportunity I had. That’s exactly what I did and it felt great. I swore the bar was going to fall. I really thought it was, but it was a really good jump. It was the best jump I’ve ever had.”
Purdue had multiple podium appearances in two events, the women’s 800m and the men’s shot put. Shoolbraid and Smith, two of the top three 800m runners in Purdue school history, entered the finals after each won their heat of trials on Saturday. In the finals, Smith and Shoolbraid led for most of the race, but Ohio State’s Katie Borchers stormed back in the last 200m. Smith and Borchers went back and forth down the homestretch and Smith came up just 0.01 of a second shy and earned the silver medal with a time of 2:05.18, a new PR. Shoolbraid was right behind Smith and took bronze after crossing in 2:06.57.
In the shot put, hammer throw champion Chukwuebuka Enekwechi and Purdue’s No. 2 all-time thrower Coy Blair stepped into the ring with some of the best in the country. Each had a strong open, as Blair led after one throw with a mark of 18.87m (61-11.00), and Enekwechi was second at 18.45m (60-06.50).
Both would get stronger throughout the competition. Blair moved up and claimed third place on his final attempt with a mark of 19.17m (62-10.75). Enekwechi used his fifth attempt for his best mark and launched the program’s new second-best mark, a distance of 19.38m (63-07.00), to claim second. Enekwechi finished the weekend with 18 points in two events.
Purdue also scored in a handful of other events, including the men’s and women’s 400m dashes, the men’s 800m, men’s 400m hurdles and women’s 5k. Blair Doney scored for the second time in as many days with a time of 16:24.21, good for the second-best time in Purdue school history. Her time earned her fifth place and four more points. Doney also scored on Saturday with a second-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, giving her a total of 12 points for the weekend.
Andrew Kendrick took seventh for two points in the men’s 400m with a time of 47.15 seconds. Jones was sixth in the women’s event with a PR time of 53.88 seconds, good for the fifth-fastest mark in program history. Kevin Griffith earned four points for his fifth-place finish in the men’s 800m. He finished with a time of 1:49.93.
The women’s finish was a near-unprecedented improvement from the 2013 championships. The Boilermakers climbed eight spots in one year with their 52-point improvement. The place improvement was the best in the conference, and the point improvement was second, behind only Iowa’s 55-point increase. The men’s team’s four-spot improvement was the best in the conference. Their 23-point bettering was tied for the best in the league with Illinois.
Purdue’s third-place finish on the women’s side was six spots better than Indiana, while the men’s fifth-place finish was three spots better than the Hoosiers. The Boilermakers wins over the Hoosiers add two points for the Old Gold and Black in the Governor’s Cup Race and officially clinch the plaque for Purdue by a margin of 12-8.
After the Big Ten Championships, the Boilermakers currently have 31 times or marks that rank in the top 48 in the region, which, if they hold up, will qualify them for the East Regional in Jacksonville, Fla., in two weeks. That number is up from last year’s 19 entries to the regional meet.
Purdue has the next week off before and will find out the official qualifiers prior to the regionals.
The meet as a whole was one of the fastest in Rankin Track and Field history. The men broke nine facility records, while the women broke seven. Erin Finn of Michigan also broke two Big Ten Championships records, one in the 5k and one in the 10k.