Three Big Takeaways: Six Cyclones qualify for Big 12 Championship finals

Senior distance runner Nehemia Too (center) stands on the start line before a relay race at the 2022 Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. Too helped Iowa State to a first-place finish in the men’s 4x1600m relay and eighth in the distance medley relay.

Adarsh Tamma

Iowa State track and field enjoyed a wealth of success across multiple events at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships on Saturday, as the Cyclones were able to qualify six athletes for individual finals.

The Cyclone men’s and women’s squads also saw top performances in the field and multi-events, as competitions wrapped up in both the decathlon and heptathlon in Lubbock, Texas. The Fuller Track lit ablaze by the distance runners, as Iowa State added a total of 11 points from both teams across all of Saturday’s performances.

There were a host of personal bests for the Cyclones, particularly in the multi-events. Highlights included Thai Thompson’s ninth-place decathlon finish with a total of 7,001 points after recording four personal bests.

400m runner Zakiyah Amos did not manage to qualify for the final, yet set a new personal best of 53.81 seconds to move up to No. 5 in Iowa State’s record book. Her previous top time outdoors was 55.08 seconds, which she recorded at the Beach Invitational in April.

In the women’s 3000m steeplechase, the Cyclone women earned 11 points from the trio of Janette Schraft, Madelynn Hill and Kiki Connell. Schraft earned the bronze by running a time of 10:30.85, with Hill taking sixth at 10:46.83. Connell capped off her first Big 12 Championships steeplechase with a seventh-place showing in 10:54.46.

After the dust cleared, the Cyclone women’s team stood in fourth place with 46 points, while the men were in seventh amassing 25 points.

Willits finishes strong in heptathlon

For freshman Sydney Willits, Saturday was a day of new career-highs, as she finished her first collegiate multi-event season with an eighth-place showing in the heptathlon. Willits’ final points total of 5,038 was a new personal best, as well as the fifth-best heptathlon in Iowa State history.

Entering the final day of competition, Willits had already accumulated 3,014 points from the first four events and was on track to break her previous top mark of 4,376. That performance is from the Bryan Clay Invite in mid-April, where Willits finished 22nd overall after garnering a first-place performance in the high jump.

Willits wasted no time getting to work on Saturday, as she finished second in the long jump. Her top mark of 20 feet, 2.5 inches came on her first attempt, as she scratched on her next two rounds.

In the javelin, Willits notched her third personal best of the competition, when she earned a fourth round throw of 91 feet, 5 inches and a ninth-place finish in the event. Willits started out the competition quite slow, as her first and second round throws were 73-07 and 67-6 respectively. She beat her previous mark by nearly four feet, as she last threw for 87 feet, 6 inches at the Sun Angel Classic.

Willits earned her eighth place finish and a point for the Cyclone women by closing out her competition with another PR in the 800m, running a time of 2:30.32 in her heat. Willits beat her previous top mark of 2:32.20 and held off Baylor’s Alyssa Miller in the points table.

When it was all said and done, she had accomplished what only six Cyclone athletes had done before — scoring 5,000 or more points in a heptathlon. She overtook Kaci Storm’s mark of 5,027 in 2016 to end up fifth on the program’s all-time leaderboard.

Track athletes punch tickets to the finals

On the track, Iowa State was led in the middle distance category by All-American Nehemia Too, who earned himself a place in the men’s 1500m final on Sunday by finishing sixth overall in the first round.

Too’s time of 3:45.23 led him to a second-place finish in his heat, as he lost out the top spot to Oklahoma State’s Fouad Messaoudi at the tape. Both Messaoudi and Too were ensured an automatic qualifier spot in the final, as the top three in each heat went through. 

Too had a similarly productive showing at last year’s championships, as he earned top-ten placings in both the 1500m and 5000m finals to register fifth and ninth-place showings respectively.

The Cyclones were also able to get three of their athletes into the men’s 800m final, as the trio of Cebastian Gentil, Darius Kipyego and Peter Smith all ran through to Sunday.

Gentil and Kipyego, both of whom were crucial to the Cyclones’ 4x800m-winning quartet at the Drake Relays, punched their tickets to Sunday’s final through automatic qualifications. Gentil won the opening heat of the day with a time of 1:48.25, while Kipyego took second in heat three at 1:49.26.

Smith, who was competing at the outdoor championships for the first time, managed to qualify by beating out Kansas State’s Travis Hodge by 0.01 seconds to grab the final time-qualifying spot. Smith’s mark of 1:49.31 was also within range of his personal best of 1:49.02. 

Vlahovic, Hall break into hurdle finals

The Cyclones’ star hurdling duo of Kaylyn Hall and Katarina Vlahovic were in top form again, as they were both able to qualify for the women’s 100m hurdles final in Saturday’s preliminaries.

The pair were both able to punch their tickets for Sunday’s final in style, as they claimed both of the time-qualifying spots by each breaking their personal bests. Entering the weekend’s championships, Hall and Vlahovic were already within the top-five of Iowa State’s all-time leaderboard, with both athletes being under the 13.50 second mark.

Hall was the first of the pair to qualify, as she produced a fourth-place performance in heat one in a time of 13.22 seconds. The London, Ontario native inched closer to the school record of 13.10 seconds, which was set by Keira Christie-Galloway in her title-winning race in the 2019 conference championships. Hall will also be participating in her second final at the Big 12 meet, having finished eighth in 2019.

Vlahovic followed up her strong performance from the Drake Relays two weeks prior to lowering her top time by a tenth of a second on Saturday. She qualified for the final, having placed fifth in her heat with a time of 13.37 seconds, as she maintained her No. 4 position on the top-ten list.

Vlahovic finished fourth at the Drake Relays and will now be participating in her first ever individual final at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships. She previously earned an eighth-place showing as part of the Cyclones 4x100m team at the 2019 championships.

Both Hall and Vlahovic will have their work cut out for them in Sunday’s final, as the pair will face off against two of the best hurdlers in the nation this season in the form of Ackera Nugent of Baylor and Demisha Roswell of Texas Tech. The pair finished 1-2 overall in Saturday’s preliminaries, as they both won their heats to qualify for the final. Texas Tech’s Roswell is currently ranked second in the West Region for the 100m hurdles with a time of 12.70, with Nugent following close behind at 12.72.

The third and final day of the Big 12 Championships will kick off at 7 a.m. on Sunday with the men’s and women’s 5000m finals. Live results can be accessed here, with all of the action streaming live on ESPN+.