Led by a pair of top-five finishes from Western Kentucky’s 400-meter and 1,600-meter relays Saturday at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships, WKU set a program record with seven athletes earning first-team All-American honors in Eugene, Ore.
WKU’s seven first-team All-Americans are the most in school history at a single NCAA championship and three more than its previous high of four honorees in 1973. Overall, WKU finished with eight first- and second-team All-American accolades – also a program best at a single NCAA championship.
“I’m extremely proud,” WKU coach Erik Jenkins said. “Anytime you can make it to this championship, period, you are considered one of the best – not only in the country, but in the world.
“For us to be able to come here, with solid performances, that’s just unchartered territory. It’s extremely hard to get here and as an alumni, I’m proud of them. As a head coach I’m proud of them. My staff has done a very good job of following the vision and trying to get it going.”
The Hilltoppers finished with 12 team points, which tied them for 18th overall with Tennessee. Oregon captured the men’s team title with 88 points.
The 1,600-meter relay team posted WKU’s highest relay finish in program history with a fourth-place showing and the 400-meter relay team captured fifth place. Freshmen Ventavius Sears and Emmanuel Dasor ran middle legs for both relays, while senior Elvyonn Bailey, the 2014 Southeast Region men’s track athlete of the year, anchored both quartets.
Individually, sophomore javelin thrower Tomas Guerra finished sixth, and senior thrower Jessica Ramsey secured eighth place in the shot put to garner first-team All-American status. Ramsey, who also finished 14th in the hammer throw Wednesday, became the first Lady Topper in program history to earn first- and second-team All-American status in two individual events at the same NCAA championship.
Senior Chris Chamness ran the lead leg for WKU’s 1,600-relay team and had the Hilltoppers in second upon his handoff to Dasor. WKU was neck-and-neck with Arizona State and Nebraska in the middle legs before Bailey took the anchor handoff. Bailey split 44.91 seconds in the final 400 meters to push WKU to the fourth-place finish. WKU’s showing earned the entire quartet first-team All-American honors.
The Hilltoppers’ 400-meter relay team turned in the second-fastest time in school history en route to a fifth-place finish. Sophomore Ja’Karyus Redwine led off, Sears and Dasor followed and Bailey anchored WKU to a time of 39.43 seconds. The quartet turned in the three fastest times in school history during its last three races, posting a 39.18 in Wednesday’s semifinals and 39.52 seconds at the NCAA East prelims May 29 before Saturday’s 49.43 clocking. Redwine, Sears, Dasor and Bailey also received first team All-American accolades.
“We were paired up very well,” Jenkins said of the 400 relay. “I think our first exchange went well. We had a little bit too much space before the second exchange and I think that cost us time. I thought we could run a little faster, but in the 4x1, you’re constantly living on the edge, so you’ve got to gamble and be very precise with the handoffs and make sure you accelerate through the zone.
“You also have to have four very fast individuals to compete at this level.”
Guerra’s javelin throw of 227 feet, 4 inches to open the first flight of competition was good enough for sixth place Saturday. The finish earned Guerra, a sophomore, first team All-American accolades for the second straight season.
Ramsey, like Guerra, recorded her best mark with her first toss of the day at 55 feet, 1 inch. Her opening mark ranked eighth through the flight stage and advanced her to the finals, but she could not improve the clip in her final three attempts. Her eighth-place finish resulted in first-team All-American accolades, making her the first Lady Topper in program history to achieve that feat in the shot put.
France Makabu, a senior jumper for the Lady Toppers, nabbed honorable mention All-American honors Friday after placing 19th in the triple jump with a leap of 41 feet, 3 inches.