NCAA Women’s 400 — Irby’s Aggressive Attack Pays Off

The big gap at 300m illustrates just how bold Lynna Irby’s strategy was. (BILL LEUNG)

Over the course of an NCAA Championships prospects ebb and flow, and in the final day 3-hour session the pace picks up. But whether considered from a season-long perspective or at the tempo of by-the-minute team score changes in the meet’s last hour and a half, the 400 was going to be a gripping spectacle.

Indoor champion Kendall Ellis of USC, No. 2 on the collegiate all-time list with her 49.99 Pac-12 performance, vs. Georgia frosh Lynna Irby, whose aggressively run 50.11 clocking in her semi, the fastest-ever NCAA prelim, missed Monique Henderson’s Meet Record by just 0.01.

Oregon soph Makenzie Dunmore, No. 3 on the entry list at 50.63, looked comfortable enough in her semi to hold that spot on the mid-meet formchart over Brionna Thomas despite the Purdue senior’s leading her in the qualifying race 51.22–51.55.

The premeet formchart projected this trio’s teams finishing 4 points apart atop the standings with the Bulldogs best in show, Trojans 2nd and Oregon 3rd.

An Irby win, and strong showing in the 200, would be crucial to Georgia’s chances. While USC and Oregon had slipped relative to the chart, both squads were still in the team hunt with potential to defy the crystal ball in events to follow the 400. This race wasn’t going to be just personal, it was a team thing.

The spider sense of many in the stands signaled danger from Irby, not just because of her semi time but the striking ease with which she seemed to run it. Given Ellis’s history as a homestretch charger, the suspicion was the Georgia yearling in lane 4 would bring it from the gun. She did. The rain had eased momentarily but the puddles it had left made Stevenson Track a mini land of lakes.

Irby’s attack was formidable as she rolled up the stagger on Thomas to her right within the first 50m and held the accelerator down. By halfway (23.2) she had eaten half of the offset to Ellis (23.7 in lane 6) and the contest was now a duel.

The 19-year-old Irby, the ’16 World Junior silver medalist, was showing unfaltering form as she reached 300m in 35.6—5m in front of Ellis, but the indoor champion was incrementally whittling back her deficit. Florida junior Sharrika Barnett in lane 7 ran 3rd a couple of meters further back with Dunmore (lane 3) and Thomas next.

Irby’s form never broke and she finished in a meet record 49.80, the No. 2 all-time collegiate mark. The favored Ellis, despite her stretch drive, was still close to 3m back at 50.19, the meet’s sixth-fastest clocking ever. Thomas overhauled Barnett in the last 50m to finish with a PR 50.78 to the Gator’s 51.16. Soph Boilermaker teammate Chloe Abbott took 5th in 51.87.

For Dunmore, her home track straight was cruel territory this time. Her form deteriorated, at first slowly but some 25m from the line she buckled to the track. Junior teammate Briyahna DesRosiers took 6th but Dunmore required another agonizing 57 seconds to stagger tearfully across the finish stripe in 8th, with Oregon supporters urging, “Get the point, get the point.”

Said Irby, who was born 26 days too early to have Junior status, “Coming off of prelims with a 50.11 I was really excited; it was a really smooth race for me, probably one of my best races all season. So, since Thursday, I’ve been really excited for today.” All the water she splashed through never concerned her. “Honestly, I can’t even remember what the track felt like,” she said. “I just remember I wanted to be first across the finish line. All I could think about was the execution of our race plan today.”

That and the 200 final which awaited her some 34 minutes later.


NCAA WOMEN’S 400 RESULTS

FINAL (June 09)

1. ***Lynna Irby (Ga) 49.80 PR (AL, CL) (2, 2 C) (MR) (23.2/26.6) (14.2);

2. Kendall Ellis (USC) 50.19 (x, 10 C; 5, 6 NCAA) (23.7/26.5) (13.7);

3. Brionna Thomas (Pur) 50.78 PR (13.6);

4. *Sharrika Barnett (Fl) 51.16 (14.5);

5. **Chloe Abbott (Pur) 51.87 (14.0);

6. *Briyahna DesRosiers (Or) 52.10 (14.3);

7. *Rachel Misher (LSU) 52.23 (14.4);

8. **Makenzie Dunmore (Or) 1:49.13 (pulled).

(best-ever mark-for-NCAA-place: 1–2)

 

SEMIS (June 07)

I–1. Thomas 51.22; 2. Dunmore 51.55; 3. Misher 51.87; 4. DesRosiers 52.06;

5. *Briana Guillory (Ia) 52.36; 6. **Hannah Waller (Or) 52.50; 7. *Sarah Moore (GM) 53.19; 8. *Lenysse Dyer (Tn) 53.81.

II–1. Ellis 51.38; 2. Abbott 52.14;

3. ***Taylor Manson (Fl) 52.28; 4. Felecia Majors (Tn) 52.59; 5. **Serenity Douglas (Tx) 52.67; 6. Titania Markland’ (Mn) 52.98; 7. **Aliyah Abrams’ (SC) 53.09; 8. Ama Pipi’ (Ok) 53.60.

III–1. Irby 50.11 PR (5, 6 C; 2, 2 NCAA) (misses MR by 0.01; fastest NCAA prelim ever);

2. Barnett 51.68; 3. Emerald Egwim’ (Mn) 52.57;

4. Akua Obeng-Akrofi’ (Col) 52.66; 5. Maggie Barrie’ (OhSt) 52.80; 6. **Kyra Constantine’ (USC) 53.18; 7. *Kiana Horton (Bay) 53.33; 8. *Lisa-Anne Barrow’ (SDi) 54.06.

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