Postseason: Iowa State track and field’s time to shine

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 crossed the finish line of another season during the week of June 6, with six Cyclone athletes representing their teams at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

Hayward Field was the final mile marker in what had been a long road back for all of the athletes competing in the national finals, five of whom were making their first trip out West. With the last two seasons being headlined by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year was one more chance for members of the Iowa State squad to use their extended eligibility and compete in their final indoor and outdoor seasons.

The Cyclones’ prevalence was seen in the postseason, as 23 Iowa State athletes qualified for the NCAA West Preliminaries in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Their entries were in events across the board, from the long distances to the sprints, hurdles and field events.

In the end, that versatility late in the season stood out the most for the Iowa State men and women, as they would end the year with all six of their national finalists getting All-American recognition for their performances.

Gomez bags 800-meter All-American honors

On the track, junior Jason Gomez turned out to be Iowa State’s stand-out athlete at the middle distances.

The San Jose, California native capped off his junior season in style at Hayward Field, finishing fourth in the men’s 800m final and breaking his personal best time in the process. His time of 1:46.38 placed him No. 5 on the Cyclones’ all-time leaderboard.

Gomez’s achievement in Oregon was a full-circle moment, as he was eliminated in last year’s national championships at the semifinals stage after not finishing his race.

On top of that, he became the second consecutive Cyclone runner to earn All-American honors in the men’s 800m after Festus Lagat’s fifth-place finish from last season. Lagat, who currently holds the school record at 1:45.05, earned that time in his third-place finish at the 2019 final in Austin, Texas.

The indoor season saw Gomez bounce around between the 800m, 1000 meter and distance medley relay. His first half-mile race of the season was at the ISU Holiday Invitational in December, where he finished 14th overall in a time of 1:56.32. 

January and February saw improved results, as Gomez placed fourth at the Iowa State Classic by clocking 1:48.53 and winning his heat. He also helped the Cyclones qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships at the Arkansas Qualifier, as he — along with Frank Hayes, Alexander Lomong and Nehemia Too — ran a time of 9:24.07 to establish a new school record.

In the national final, the quartet earned First Team All-American honors by finishing sixth, coming back from nearly last place to finish in 9:28.62 in a hotly contested race.

Gomez’s reps during the indoor season seemed to pay off once outdoor competition arrived, as he debuted at the Sun Angel Classic in April with a new personal-best time of 1:47.12. Gomez’s performance, aided by his teammate Darius Kipyego’s runner-up placing in 1:47.22, put him at No. 5 on the NCAA leaderboard at the time.

His mark would stay in the top-20 for the rest of the regular season, with teammate Cebastian Gentil eclipsing six days later by running 1:46.97 at the Bryan Clay Invite.

With qualification to the NCAA West Preliminary meet ensured, Gomez again contributed to team success by helping the Cyclone men repeat as 4×800-meter champions at the Drake Relays. In the last meet before the Big 12 Championships, Gomez, Gentil, Peter Smith and Darius Kipyego ran splits under 1:51 to win the title in a time of 7:17.47.

Gomez’s aggressive racing style grew as the postseason progressed, as he earned his way back to the national championship in the regional meet by finishing second and first in his first and second-round heats, respectively.

Initially, he placed runner-up behind Texas A&M’s Brandon Miller in the first race of the day before winning his semifinal heat in a time of 1:47.62 to make back-to-back trips to the big dance. Gentil also earned his first national championships bid by winning his heat, going from sixth to first over the final 200 meters.

At the national meet, Gentil found himself trailing the pack at the bell in the semifinal and produced a burst of speed down the back-straight to kick into first. Gomez entered his first individual collegiate final after winning the heat in a time of 1:47.02 to set a new outdoor PR.

The final was a near-replay of the semis, as Gomez sat in last in the first 400 meters. As he had done before, his major move came on the backstretch with a big kick into the middle of the field, turning it on over the final 100 meters to finish within the top five.

Gomez’s performance made it back-to-back Cyclone runners named to the All-American First Team, as Festus Lagat placed fifth in last year’s final. It was the first time he earned All-American honors in an outdoor, individual event, as he was also named to the First Team last year after finishing fifth in the indoor 800m final.

Vlahovic, Hall go head-to-head in hurdles

The Canadian duo Katarina Vlahovic and Kaylyn Hall reached new heights in 2022 by setting personal bests in the 60-meter and 100-meter hurdles. Both athletes’ times were among the best in the country, as they were able to qualify for the West Preliminary meet for the first time as a pair.

In the indoor season, Hall was the first of the pair to break her 60m hurdles PR, clocking a time of 8.24 seconds in the final at the Iowa State Classic in February. Hall also finished second overall in the preliminaries when she ran a time of 8.31 to win her heat.

Hall improved her previous top time by 0.07 seconds from her preliminary run the day before. Vlahovic just finished ahead of Hall in the preliminaries by running 8.29.

In the final, the Canadian pair faced off again as the championship race came down to the wire. Vlahovic was again the victor, as she clocked a new PR of 8.21 seconds, while Hall trailed closely behind in 8.24 seconds.

Vlahovic built upon her performances and returned to the Lied Recreation Center two weeks later for the Big 12 Indoor Championships. Running another PR of 8.16, she earned the No. 3 seed for her second consecutive hurdles final.

In another race featuring both athletes, Vlahovic again placed ahead of Hall to take fourth in 8.28 seconds. Hall finished seventh with a mark of 8.37.

The outdoor season saw both Hall and Vlahovic post more top times, as they both broke their personal bests in the 100m distance more than once. Together, they reached 16 finals, placing in the top five 10 times.

Hall got out of the gates strong at the Bobcat Invitational in late March, as she ran the third-fastest time in Iowa State history (13.34) to finish runner-up to Wisconsin All-American Destiny Huven. 

Perhaps more surprising was Hall’s performance in the 400-meter hurdles, as she won the event clear of the field in under a minute. Her time of 59.32 was more than 2.5 seconds faster than her previous top time in an event she had rarely run in previous years.

Vlahovic and Hall would again go head-to-head at the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe, Arizona, where they would both post times that rank top-five all-time in Cyclone history. With Hall going even better at 13.29 seconds to get into the final, Vlahovic responded with her own PR at 13.47. In that final race, Hall won the battle against her fellow Canadian by clocking 13.39, while Vlahovic finished in fifth.

At the Drake Relays, the pair split off for the first time all season as Hall ran solo in the 400-meter hurdles. She finished ninth overall, once again going under the one-minute mark by running a time of 59.52 seconds.

Vlahovic got through the final of the 100m event before finishing fourth in 13.56 seconds. Kentucky’s Darci Khan was given the same time as Vlahovic but was awarded third place based on the photo finish.

Hall and Vlahovic’s final pair of meetings came in their last two meets of the season at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships and West Preliminaries. With both of them returning to the conference meet final, Hall and Vlahovic finished sixth and seventh, respectively, as Texas Tech’s Demisha Roswell took the title in 12.44 seconds.

The streak of success, unfortunately, ended for Vlahovic and Hall at the regional meet, as neither were able to move onto the NCAA Championships. Hall advanced to the semifinals but was unable to move any further and finished 19th overall.

March’s historic showings highlight field events

School record holder Emily March made even more history in the final meet of the season by becoming the first Iowa State athlete to earn First-Team All-American honors in the women’s discus.

March, whose record of 58.27 meters was set at last year’s Rock Chalk Classic, matched up against some of the NCAA’s best throwers throughout the season to pace her on the road to Eugene. Her qualification for the national finals was the first since Susan Sherman in 2003, and her eighth-place finish again raised the bar for the Cyclone women’s program.

After concentrating on the weight throw during the indoor season, March transitioned to the outdoor by competing in both the disc and hammer throws, the latter of which she also had some experience in during 2021.

In the conference, March’s primary competition came from Kansas senior Alexandra Emilianov, who would finish the year in second at the national meet behind defending champion Jorinde Van Klinken of Arizona State. The trio would face off against each other at the Sun Angel Classic, where Van Klinken finished ahead of Emilianov and March in second and third, respectively.

March would end up getting a new hammer PR at the Big 12 Championships, throwing for 58.24 meters to finish in sixth. She was joined by teammate Antonella Creazzola, who capped off her final season as a Cyclone by establishing a new top mark of 62.50 meters to place third.

In the discus, March notched both of her wins on the season in Iowa, as she claimed gold at the Musco Twilight and Drake Relays in back-to-back weeks. That set up another meeting with Emilianov at the conference championships, where March also had tough competition from Texas Tech’s Seasons Usual and Lauren Jones. Emilianov took the title with a mark of 60.48 meters, while March finished in fourth after throwing for 55.62 with both Usual and Jones ahead of her.

March, Emilianov and Usual all got through the preliminary meet and into the national championships by finishing in the top 12, and they added at least three more throws to their seasons. March made the most of her chances, as she had done throughout the postseason. Throwing for 54.29 meters on her third-round attempt, March advanced to the final round and earned three more attempts.

Although unable to capitalize on her previous performances, her top-nine finish earned her a distinct recognition in the annals of Iowa State’s track and field history and added to her expanding throwing resume.