NCAA Women’s 4 x 400 — You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!

Kendall Ellis came from impossibly far back to snatch the win at the line. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Nothing is better in a scoring meet than when the 4×4 closes the competition with the team title on the line. Georgia led with 52 points but no team in the race. USC stood 3rd with 43 in the bank; only a win would suffice to give the Trojans the team title. Just weeks earlier, such a position wouldn’t have seemed like brinkmanship as USC had won the Indoor by almost 10m over runner-up Purdue. But when USC’s undercover leadoff Kaelin Roberts was unable to run in Eugene, the margin over the rest of the field dissipated. The all-or-nothing race was anything but a foregone conclusion, as defending champ Oregon assumed the favorite’s role, with USC at No. 4 behind the Boilermakers and Kentucky.

Opening Leg: Depleted Trojans Open Up A Second Down

USC soph Kyra Constantine ran from the blocks for the Trojans, fighting gamely to keep her team in the hunt, knowing that superstar Kendall Ellis could close a few meters, but not many against Purdue, whose Brionna Thomas and Chloe Abbott had finished 3rd and 5th in the flat final. Constantine appeared to have a slim lead down the backstretch and around the curve, followed closely by Oregon’s Briyahna DesRosiers, 6th in the 400. But down the homestretch it was the local favorite who took the lead, with Abbott closing best, Purdue running with a front-loaded lineup. DesRosiers ran 52.0, with Abbott a meter back at 52.2 and Constantine 3rd, some 7m behind the leaders as she ran 53-flat.

Second Leg: USC Loses More Ground To Leaders

Shae Anderson held the lead for Oregon around the turn and held a slim lead over Purdue at the break point. Thomas, running second for Purdue, flowed past the Duck frosh to gain the pole and stretched her lead to 4m going into the second curve. Anderson faded slightly in the turn, now 6m behind Thomas as they entered the straight. Florida’s Sharrika Barnett, the 400’s 4th placer, had moved into 3rd, about 7m back of Oregon. SC’s Anna Cockrell, the 400H runner-up, began to close in the homestretch, but at the exchange was still 12m behind front-running Purdue. Thomas had tried to break the race open with her 50.5, which gave Purdue 6m over Oregon as Anderson had run 51.6. Barnett’s 49.8—the only sub-50 of the race—had brought Florida into contention.

Third Leg: USC Gets Strong Finish, But…

After the first curve Purdue’s lead was down to 4m, as 400H 3rd-placer Symone Black tried to stay clear of Oregon’s Venessa D’Arpino. Florida 400H 6th-placer Nikki Stephens was closing on the Duck by the end of the straight. Black began to pull away in the turn, pushing the margin to 6m, but as the teams entered the homestretch Oregon was charging, now 5m back, but with SC’s Deanna Hill—7th in both the 100 and 200—making a strong closing rush, catching Oregon as they entered the exchange zone. As Oregon faded a bit, Purdue held strong, Black having run 52.40 to D’Arpino’s 52.65. A 50.02 leg by Sydney McLaughlin moved Kentucky into the thick of the battle for 2nd.

USC, now finally getting into position to potentially win the race and the team title, suffered a major mishap with a bungled exchange between Hill and anchor Kendall Ellis. Hill stumbled while handing off, and while the baton was never dropped the killing of any momentum cost the team dearly. What had looked like “only” an 8m deficit to Purdue suddenly was another 5, and there seemed to be no way for that amount of ground to be made up.

Anchor Leg: Ellis Pulls Off The Unthinkable

As the teams headed down the backstretch Purdue anchor Jahneya Mitchell held 10m on Oregon’s Hannah Waller, with almost another 10 back to Ellis, who had the good fortune to be able to pass Kentucky anchor Kayelle Clarke on the inside going around the turn. The pass involved some minor contact and there was DQ talk, but nothing came of it. The margins held down the backstretch and through the turn, and then Ellis popped the clutch, finding a gear that Oregon and Purdue—not to mention team-scoring leader Georgia—could hope was a little too late. Ellis reeled in Waller some 60m before the line and then closed almost 10m to catch a slowing Mitchell just before the finish, USC edging out Purdue by barely more than a foot. The times were quick but not historic, 3:27.06 for USC—Ellis closing in 50.05—to 3:27.13 for Purdue. But for thrills with an amazing outcome this was a wrapup event hard to top. For any year.


FINAL (June 09)

1. USC 3:27.06

(Kyra Constantine’ 53.0, Anna Cockrell 51.3, Deanna Hill 52.72, Kendall Ellis 50.05);

2. Purdue 3:27.13

(Chloe Abbott 52.2, Brionna Thomas 50.5, Symone Black 52.40, Jahneya Mitchell 52.08);

3. Oregon 3:28.36

(Briyahna DesRosiers 52.0, Shae Anderson 51.6, Venessa D’Arpino 52.65, Hannah Waller 52.15);

4. Kentucky 3:30.52

(Faith Ross 54.3, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn’ 52.6, Sydney McLaughlin 50.02, Kayelle Clarke’ 53.63);

5. Florida 3:30.73

(Taylor Manson 54.2, Sharrika Barnett 49.8, Nikki Stephens 52.97, Taylor Sharpe’ 53.78);

6. LSU 3:32.08

(Rachel Misher 53.4, Kymber Payne 54.3, Zakiya Denoon’ 52.07, Cassondra Hall 52.27);

7. Ohio State 3:32.25

(Karrington Winters 53.7, Maggie Barrie’ 51.6, Beatrice Hannan 54.50, Syaira Richardson 52.42);

8. Baylor 3:32.63

(Victoria Powell 54.1, Taylor Bennett 53.1, Aaliyah Miller 52.78, Kiana Horton 52.69).

SEMIS (June 07)

I–1. USC 3:29.44 (Cockrell, Constantine’, Hill 52.42, Ellis 51.13); 2. Baylor 3:30.03 (Horton 51.60); 3. LSU 3:30.55 (Hall 51.96); 4. Ohio State 3:31.02 (Richardson, Barrie’, Barlow, Winters 51.84);

5. Duke 3:32.26 (Lowe, Kerr, Aveni, Price’ 51.97); 6. Arizona 3:34.26 (Gajda’, Pahlitzsch’, Warren, Waggoner); 7. Texas 3:37.45 (Douglas, Jones, Abdul-Rashid’, Golden); 8. UNLV 3:39.53 (Hudspeth, Wilson-Perteete, Love, Hudspeth).

II–1. Purdue 3:29.54 (Black 52.62, Mitchell 52.97); 2. Florida 3:30.64 (Sharpe’ 53.57);

3. Stanford 3:34.26 (Mongiovi, Best’, Gayles, Baker); 4. Minnesota 3:35.10 (Egwim’, Schow, Markland’ 51.68, Larson 55.04); 5. South Carolina 3:37.70 (Davis, Abrams’, Holmes, Mills); 6. San Diego State 3:38.04 (Harris, Barrow’, Hatcher, Lea); 7. BYU 3:39.14 (Quackenbush, Porter, Rawlinson, Pinnock); 8. Arkansas 3:40.65 (Burks Magee, Parker, Hammit, Davis).

III–1. Oregon 3:28.01 (DesRosiers, Waller, Anderson 52.00, Dunmore 51.63); 2. Kentucky 3:29.24 (McLaughlin 50.12, Clarke 54.30);

3. Texas A&M 3:32.78 (Madubuike, Ivy, Carter, Fray’ 53.68); 4. Alabama 3:33.53 (Lampkin, Darius, Funcheon, Roberson); 5. Miami 3:37.38 (Mason, Runia’, McMinn, Gonzalez); 6. Columbia 3:38.62 (Sule, Turner, Petersen, Obeng-Akrofi’); 7. Mississippi State 3:40.48 (Lewis, Mosley, White, Smith); 8. Tennessee 3:41.96 (Majors, Dyer, White, McCoy). □

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