As MSU head coach Walt Drenth said, the team’s goal each week is, “simply choosing to compete.”
With three records broken and a slew of great performances, the Michigan State track and field team was nothing short of true competitors this weekend at the Notre Dame Meyo Invitational.
Wrapping up the two-day invite on Saturday in South Bend, Ind., the team was led by record-breaking performances by Antonio James in the shot put, Tori Franklin breaking her own school record in the triple jump and Sarah Birkmeier breaking the school pole vaulting record.
“We had a presence in almost every event. I thought we competed very well,” Drenth said. “ You go to a meet like this, with this type of caliber and when they’re mentioning Michigan State all the time, it makes you feel like you’re making some sort of progress.”
To no surprise Antonio James won his events on two separate days. On Friday, he scored top points for the weight throw with 21.65m and on Saturday in the weight throw with 19.55m.
“AJ is just doing an outstanding job, winning two events,” Drenth said. “He is just continuing to do better and better and is just a great example of one of the better competitors we have.”
The jumpers also represented well. In the women’s triple jump, Tori Franklin posted a first place finish with 13.39m and Ashley Stacey got a fifth place finish with 12.63m. Jarred Gambrell posted a new personal best in the triple jump with 15.36m. In the high jump, Owen Hughes earned a second place finish with a mark of 2.05m.
“(Tori and Ashley) really compete off of each other. The triple jump was earlier in the morning Saturday. And Tori and Ashley didn’t use it as an excuse,” Drenth said. “Tori is an outstanding athlete and we are going to continue to see that school record go further and further. She is a great competitor and a great athlete. If you want to talk about someone who brings presence and energy to the group, she does a good job of that.”
Keeping with the momentum, there were notable performances in the pole vault. Sarah Birkmeier broke a school record and won her event with a mark of 4.06m. Hannah Sailar and Kassie Powell earned third and fourth place finishes. Sailar with a mark of 3.75m and Powell with 3.70m. Freshman Tim Ehrhardt also earned a first place finish in the pole vault with a personal best of 5.20m.
“Tim Ehrhardt in the pole vault was outstanding. He’s jumping almost 2 feet higher than he did in high school. Which is not normal. Usually it takes you a bit longer to accomplish that. He’s quite an athlete,” said Drenth said.
In distance races, the women swept the Ryan Shay 3K race, led by Rachele Schulist with a time of 9:22.35 and followed by Lindsay Clark in second with 9:27.30 and Sara Kroll in third with 9:25.10.
On the men’s side in the same event, Caleb Rhynard won with a time of 8:00.58. Garret Zuk and Alex Wilson were behind him with tenth and eleventh place finishes. Zuk had a season-best time of 8:13.99 and Wilson had a career-best time of 8:15.17.
“Women’s 3000 runners ran well. Rachel Schulist, she is a freshman on the track, and had a great cross country experience. She took over her race yesterday and did a fantastic job, “ Drenth said. “Caleb Rhynard is competing very well as well.”
Also in distance Julia Otwell placed fourth in the 5000m race with a time of 16:39.33. In the same race, Shelby Jackson placed seventh with 16:51.33.
In the famous Meyo Mile event Leah O’Connor placed sixth with a time of 4:39.32. In the 800-meter run, freshman Aubrey Wilberding won her heat and took fifth overall with a time of 2:10.06.
“If we put [Aubrey] in a situation, all we can ask of her is to try to win her section, and the fast times will come and she’s getting better and better,” said Drenth. “We have a great group of underclassmen. One of the things you’re always looking for, as a coach is what are the new people doing. We know about Tori, Leah and AJ. But what are the new people doing? They keep you excited. The more depth you have, the better you are. And we had a number of places that I thought that the young people were outstanding.”
In short distance, Devantre Whitelow, who is top-ranked in the Big Ten, finished runner up in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.75.
On the women’s side, Jellisa Westney placed seventh in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.65. TeJuanna Williams posted a sixth place finish in the 200-meter dash with a time of 24.91. Alicia Evens placed seventh in the 400-meter dash with a time of 55.51.
“It’s hard on everyone when we don’t have the sequence of meets we planned. It changes training and your approach. Especially for short sprinters, you need repetition in competition. I’m not worried about them but they need to get going. And I think they took a good step forward.” said Drenth.
At the Akron Invitational, competing in the heptathlon, Kurt Schneider placed second. For those who don’t know, the heptathlon is made up of seven events; the 60-meter dash, long jump, high jump, shot put, hurdles, pole vault and the 1000-meter run, competed over a two-day period.
“He needs competition. He had some performances that will alone be able to score in the conference meet. He had a fantastic day,” Drenth said. “I think there are a few places he could get a little better. He always had trouble with the pole vault last year, but he’s really starting to look good in it. But I’m excited for him to be a NCAA guy. We redshirted him last year so he could work and prepare for this year.”
The Spartans will be looking to keep up their success next weekend when the team splits up between the GVSU Big Meet in Allendale, Mich. and the SPIRE Invitational in Geneva, Ohio.
Alexa McCarthy is the host of the Last Leg for Impact Sports.
Photo by Alexa McCarthy/Impact Sports