The way head track and field head coach Walt Drenth sees it, having a presence is better than none at all.
The Spartans ended their weekend at the Big Ten Outdoor Championship with a total of 10 medals and lessons learned. The women finished sixth with a total of 85 points and the men finished 11th with 37.
“I thought it was probably the best meet for both teams we’ve had in a while,” Drenth said. “Just having a presence in each event and in the competition.”
The team used their experience at the Indoor Championship to be consistent and have stronger performances throughout the whole competition, not just the first days.
While the team saw many athletes make it to the finals, Tori Franklin in the 400-meter run, Jaelynn Pryor in the 400-meter hurdles and DeVantré Whitelow and Ross Parsons in the 100-meter dash, their finishes did not provide the points needed for a higher team ranking.
“We got people through the preliminaries, and from the prelims to finals we got a lot of seventh, eighth and ninth places,” Drenth said. “It looks good until you start adding it up, adding up the single digit points.”
On the women’s side, the final team scorings were close, with a four-point difference between sixth and third place.
“We have prided ourselves on having a very good relay. We have prided ourselves on having a lot of people in the 5,000,” Drenth said. “But we just missed scoring (what we needed) in those events.”
Rachele Schulist brought in a second place place finish with a time of 16:01.23, her second Big Ten silver medal. Lindsay Clark finished in seventh with a time of 16:28.59 and Alexis Wiersma finished ninth at 16:31.50.
Fifth and eighth place finishes, instead of seventh and ninth, would have put the team in a better position to earn a third place team finish.
It was a similar situation in the women’s 200-meter. Three athletes made it to the finals, Alicia Evans came in fourth with a time of 23.74, Jellisa Westney came in sixth with a 24.07 and TeJuanna Williams in eighth with a time of 24.27.
“If you set yourself up to compete like that, and that was one of the first times we’ve really had a presence like that at the end, I just think we need to finish it,” Drenth said. “Just a couple places better in the 200 or better in the mile relay and up in the elite group that we think we’re capable of being in.”
However, not everyone’s finals turned out less than stellar. Leah O’Connor earned two gold medals over the weekend. On Saturday, she earned her third-straight title in the 3,000 meter steeplechase with a time of 10:06.10. On Sunday, she won the 1,500-meter run with a time of 4:15.03.
Coming off an injury from late March, Franklin found herself in her usual spot, No. 1. She earned her second conference championship win of the year in the triple-jump with a mark of 13.16m.
New to the medal podium was Lauren Chorny, who won gold in the pole vault with a mark of 4.18m. Kaylee Finney, a redshirt senior, competed in her last Big Ten conference meet and earned a bronze medal in the discus with a mark of 49.61m.
“Kaylee Finney did a fantastic job,” Drenth said. “She started out with a foul and did really well on her second throw and had to throw under a lot of pressure on her last one in the prelims. So she was fantastic in the final.”
The women’s 4×100 meter relay team of Westney, Evans, Williams and Lauren Rose came in a close third place with a time of 44.91. Their bronze medal finish qualifies them for the NCAA Regional meet.
The men saw the most success in the field events. Kurt Schneider finished his last decathlon at the Big Ten Championship with a silver medal and a total of 7,431 points.
Tim Canfield was able to qualify for NCAA Regionals with a third place finish in the pole vault with a mark of 5.20m.
Antonio James took home his fourth Big Ten medal of his career with a bronze in the discus at a mark of 59.83m.
“I felt like there were very few places we weren’t pretty good,” James said. “There were a few places we could improve, but that’s just learning how to manage it when it gets difficult in there.”
The team has a large returning junior class who will be valuable next year, and instead of seventh and eighth place finishes, will be expected to finish top-five. The women’s team especially, proved that they have the capability to fight until the end, but they still need to hold on until the last second to earn the team rankings that they are capable of.
“You have to know how hard it is and hopefully we’ve learned from valuable experiences,” Drenth said.
Next up for the team is a trip to Jacksonville, Fla. where 21 MSU women and 10 men will compete in the NCAA East Regional Championship. From there, the top 48 in each event will be selected to compete in the NCAA National Championship in Eugene, Ore.
Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.
Photo: Alexa McCarthy/Impact Sports