NCAA Women’s 100 Hurdles — Stark Finishes On High Note

Gator Grace Stark (right) came from a leg break at Conference 2 years ago to a PR win. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

THE ROAD TO the top of the podium was long and tortured for Grace Stark. The Indoor hurdles champion in ’22, that year she hit 12.58 and loomed as a contender for the outdoor title when she fell in the SEC final and broke her leg. Surgeries and a lengthy rehab process followed.

This season, the 23-year-old Gator finally made it back, coming to Eugene as the favorite after her SEC win in a PR 12.53. Not that anyone expected a cakewalk. Washington State’s Maribel Caicedo had blistered an Ecuadorean Record 12.49 at the West Regional, followed by a wind-aided 12.38. And USC’s Jasmine Jones had won the Pac-12 before her windy 12.58 at the regional. LSU’s Alia Armstrong, the ’22 champion, would not be present after her DQ at the East Regional.

Caicedo made it clear she would contend, beating Jasmine Jones in the first heat, 12.53–12.67. In the second, with a 3.4 wind, Stark looked quick and confident in hurdling 12.52 ahead of the 12.71 from Caicedo’s teammate Micaela De Mello. In heat 3, it was Michigan’s Aasia Laurencin who surprised with a 12.77 out of lane 3 to edge Central Florida’s Rayniah Jones (12.79).

For the final, it would be Stark in lane 5, Laurencin to her left in 4, and to her right would be Caicedo (6), Jasmine Jones (7) and Rayniah Jones (8). A light 0.5 breeze blew in their faces.

Stark, always fast at the gun, got out well, with both Joneses alongside. The trio ran even for the first three hurdles, with Caicedo finding her rhythm and challenging at 4. By hurdle 6, however, Stark started to reap the dividends of her quickfire sewing-machine stride. Her lead continued to grow as the competitors to her right battled for runner-up honors.

Touching down and launching into her final sprint while Caicedo, Jones and Jones remained airborne, Stark dashed to the line in a lifetime best 12.47 to become the No. 9 collegian ever. Behind her, Caicedo won the battle for 2nd at 12.56, with Rayniah Jones hitting a PR 12.59 and Jasmine Jones a lifetime best 12.64.

Once she caught her breath, relief washed over Stark’s face. “I was focusing on executing the first three steps and getting a good start to carry that through my race,” she said. “We tried to keep my arms tight because they can get a little wild in between. It was my last race [for Florida] and I wanted to make it the best one.

“A couple years ago this was the outcome that I was working toward and unfortunately it didn’t go that way. And last year was just a big challenge and a big test of my patience, just working through the previous injury, a couple surgeries, just trying to get back from that… I really wanted to be somewhere that I wasn’t. It was a lot of pressure, a lot of anxiety.

“One day it just clicked and I was maybe not so scared anymore. [This victory] is the reason I came to Florida. I trust and believe in Coach Holloway.”


FINAL (June 08; wind –0.5)

1. Grace Stark (Fl) 12.47 PR (9, =10 C);

2. Maribel Caicedo’ (WaSt-Ecu) 12.56;

3. Rayniah Jones (UCF) 12.59 PR;

4. *Jasmine Jones (USC) 12.64 PR;

5. Destiny Huven (Ar) 12.85;

6. Aasia Laurencin (Mi) 12.86;

7. *Micaela De Mello’ (WaSt-Bra) 12.92;

8. *Jalaysiya Smith (USC) 12.96;

… dnf—Alexandra Webster (FlSt).

SEMIS (June 06)

I(0.8)–1. Caicedo’ 12.53; 2. Jones 12.67; 3. Smith 12.77 PR; 4. Leah Phillips (LSU) 12.82; 5. Shani’a Bellamy (LSU) 12.83; 6. Paige Magee (Ia) 12.88 PR; 7. **Janela Spencer’ (OhSt-Jam) 12.99 PR; 8. **Jessicka Woods (MsSt) 13.20 PR.

II(3.4)–1. Stark 12.52w; 2. De Mello’ 12.71w; 3. Webster 12.71w; 4. Huven 12.72w; 5. Emelia Chatfield (Tx) 13.03w; 6. **Naomi Krebs’ (TxT-Ger) 13.21w;… dnf—Skyla Wilson (Duke);… dq—**Jaiya Covington (TxAM).

III(1.1)–1. Laurencin 12.77; 2. Jones 12.79; 3. **Oneka Wilson’ (Clem-Jam) 12.86; 4. Yoveinny Mota’ (Ks-Ven) 12.97; 5. Sydni McMillan (ECar) 13.03; 6. Rosealee Cooper’ (MsSt-Jam) 13.12; 7. *Destiny Smith (TxT) 13.49;… dnf—*Marissa Simpson’ (UTEP-Jam).