Lafayette, LA (A-State) – For the first time since 2005, the Arkansas State men’s track and field squad has won the Sun Belt Conference Outdoor Championship. The A-State women put up a valiant effort and finished second in the final team standings.
The Red Wolves entered the final day of competition in second place, trailing leader South Alabama by two points. Led by a pair of gold medal performances by Jaylen Bacon, another championship by Roelf Pienaar and a host of second place finishes, A-State totaled 94.5 points on the day to finish with 149.5. On the women’s side, Kristina Knott earned a pair of gold medals, Keturah Smith won the 400-meter dash and A-State compiled 83 points, but finished three points shy of champion South Alabama. The women entered the day trailing South Alabama by 40 points, with 46 points in fourth place.
“I’m so proud of both our men’s and women’s teams,” said A-State head coach Jim Patchell. Both made a huge turnaround from indoor. The men did an awesome job and this is the first men’s outdoor title since 2005. The women are disappointed in getting so close to another outdoor title, but they fought hard all three days and I’m proud of them for the effort.”
Bacon, the men’s high point scorer with 22.25 points, posted the top qualifying time in both the 100 and 200-meter dash on Saturday and he followed up that effort taking gold in each event. He won the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.25 seconds and raced to the 200-meter dash title with a time of 20.75 seconds. Bacon also ran in the 4x100-meter relay and the 4x400-meter relay that posted a third and sixth place finish, respectively.
Pienaar claimed his third-straight triple jump gold medal outdoors with a leap of 15.88m (52-01.25). The leap was a personal-best and marked the third-straight year that he has won both the long and triple jump outdoors. For his career, he has nine gold medals with two indoor triple jump titles and a long jump crown.
Tiaan Steenkamp earned a second place finish in the men’s high jump. He cleared 2.12m (6-11.50) and was awarded second place by way of tiebreakers. The Red Wolves picked up seven more points in the event with a fifth place clearance by David Phillips (2.02m/6-07.50) and a sixth place clearance by Clint Ligon (1.97m/6-05.50).
A-State also took points from three finishes in the men’s pole vault. The trio of freshman logged second, sixth and seventh place finishes for a total of 13 points. Sam Bell placed second with a vault of 5.11m (16-09.25) while Michael Carr (4.96m/16-03.25) and Cameron Stalnaker (4.96m/16-03.25) were sixth and seventh, respectively.
The Red Wolves had two finalists in the men’s 110-meter hurdles. Clarence Simpkins finished fourth in 14.42 seconds and Jamil Peeples was seventh in 14.61 seconds to grab seven points for A-State.
The lone throw event on Sunday was the discus throw and A-State picked up podium finishes in both the men’s and women’s competition. Itamar Levi, who finished second in the shot put on Saturday, earned another silver medal. He launched the discus 54.48m (178-09) to place second and pick up eight points for the Red Wolves. In the women’s discus, Calea Carr took bronze with a throw of 51.48m (168-11) for six points.
Knott, the top women’s scorer in the meet with 27.5 points, took gold in the 100 and 200-meter dash. She posted a time of 11.44 seconds in the 100-meter dash and a school-record time of 23.30 seconds in the 200-meter dash. Her 200-meter dash time topped the school record held by Sharika Nelvis (23.39). Knott also ran on the 4x100-meter relay and the 4x400-meter relay that posted fourth place finishes.
Smith took gold in the 400-meter dash, taking gold by a photo finish. Smith posted a time of 53.691 seconds just ahead of the second place time of 53.696 seconds. The official time of 53.70 seconds by Smith ranks as the second-fastest in program history. Erika Christian finished eighth (57.08) to give A-State 11 points in the event.
Shemiah Brooks had a busy afternoon and she started her day with the triple jump. She finished third with a leap of 12.32m (40-05.00). Brooks was one of three in the 100-meter hurdles finals for A-State and she finished second with a time of 13.72 seconds. Samone Thompson, winner of the heptathlon on Saturday, finished third in 13.76 seconds and Emenderlyn Iwuji was sixth in 14.04 seconds. Thompson completed her busy weekend with a third place finish in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 1:00.12, the third-fastest time in program history.
Andrea Perez just missed a podium finish in the 800-meter run. She posted a time of 2:13.88 to finish fourth for five points. Zach VanGundy crossed the line in seventh for the men in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:58.51. In the women’s 5,000-meter run, Arnica Zitting finished seventh with a time of 17:44.86. Wil Norris posted a fourth place finish in the men’s 5,000-meter run with a time of 14:51.76 and Rickus Jacobs was sixth in 14:58.23, clinching the conference title for A-State.
Up next for A-State is the NCAA West Regional in Lawrence, Kan. May 27-29. Entering the Sun Belt Championships, A-State had 16 student-athletes qualified for the NCAA West Regional. Final qualifications will be announced in the coming days.