Track & Field: Pole vault win by Gruver has UK women in contention at NCAA Outdoors

UK sophomore Olivia Gruver’s winning vault of 14 feet 9 inches…..Photo by Chet White / UK Athletics

EUGENE, Ore. – Sophomore Olivia Gruver won Kentucky’s seventh individual NCAA Outdoor Title, and first in the pole vault, to springboard the Wildcats into second place in the team standings after the first day of women’s competition on Thursday.

Gruver’s winning clearance of 14-feet, nine inches/4.50 meters scored 10 points, and Sha’Keela Saunders added four with a fifth-place finish in the long jump, giving UK 14 points through six of 21 events. Georgia leads with 24.2 points, Arizona State is third with 13, Kansas is fourth with 12 and Arkansas is fifth with 11.2.

“It’s just surreal.” Gruver said. “I don’t even know what’s happening, but it’s fun. I love competing against great people because you know that when you win, you’re good. It’s crazy, but I want to say that everyone did a great job today.”

Gruver — top qualifier out of the East Preliminary Championships on her home runway 14 days ago –recovered well from failing to clear any height at the Southeastern Conference Championships earlier this season.

She took bronze in the NCAA and SEC Indoor Championships earlier this year. Gruver advanced to the NCAA Outdoor Championships finals site last year, where she placed 21st having cleared 13’3.5″/4.05m.

Vaulting in cool, mostly overcast conditions after rain fell earlier on Thursday, Gruver cruised over the bar on her first two attempts.

She missed her first attempt at 14’5.25”/4.40m, but then cleared on the second attempt. The Baltimore product then got over 14’7.25”/4.45m on her first go, by which point only 2016 NCAA Champion Alexis Weeks (Arkansas) remained in the competition.

With just two athletes left, and all eyes trained upon the Hayward Field back stretch runway, Gruver cleared the next height just barely brushing the bar at 14’9”/4.50m, yet getting over with a personal best by one centimeter.

 

Weeks missed her first attempt at that height and elected to pass through to the next: 14’11”/4.55m.

Having failed to get over at the lower bar, she had only two misses remaining and couldn’t fly above the standard, giving Gruver her first national title.

Gruver made three attempts at 14’11”/4.55m, but was unable to clear.

Saunders, the 2017 NCAA and SEC Indoor Champion, needed to improve on her final long jump attempt, but could only reach a mark of 21’3.25”/6.48m to place fifth. She wrapped up her collegiate career as an NCAA Champion, two-time SEC Champion, and five-time NCAA medalist.

Thursday qualifiers
Kentucky’s 4x100m relay of Precious Hitchcock, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, Kayelle Clarke and Kianna Gray won semifinal heat three in 43.45Q to advance to the final.

 

They had the fourth-fastest time of the semifinals and will run out of lane six at 6:32 p.m. ET Saturday. Notably, co-collegiate record holder LSU, in addition to Miami, Auburn and Texas A&M were disqualified.

SEC Champion Katy Kunc broke 10 minutes in the 3k steeplechase for the first time. She set a new seven-second personal best, 9:55.59, to advance to her first NCAA final. She took fifth in her semifinal to claim the last automatic qualifying place with the eighth fastest time of the heats overall.

 

Camacho-Quinn cruised into the 100m hurdles final winning heat one in 12.84, second fastest of the semifinals. She’ll defend her title Saturday at 7:12pm ET.
The Friday primer
Friday’s action will feature just men’s competitors as the men’s team title will be decided.

Two Wildcats will compete on Friday. Justin Kretchmer will high jump at 8 p.m. ET, and Nick Anderson will return to the NCAA 110m hurdles final in which he placed second last year.

Anderson will run out of lane eight at 9:12 p.m. ET.

ESPN will broadcast the meet starting at 8:30 p.m. The early going of the high jump will be available on ESPN3/WatchESPN.

The women’s competition concludes on Saturday on ESPN.
UKTF NCAA Outdoor Championships Precedent

The UK women’s qualified one fewer entry to Eugene, 16, than it did a year ago (17).
The UK men’s team advanced one more NCAA qualifier than it did a year ago.
The UK women’s team was 11th, and the men’s team was 22nd at 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships.

The UK women’s team’s best NCAA finish was as runner-up in 2015 with 50 points. The UK men’s team’s best NCAA outdoor finish was ninth with 25 points in 2008.
The format
Athletes earn points for their teams at the NCAA Championships based on top-8 finishes with points awarded on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis where first place gets 10 points and eighth place gets one.

 

The meet features 21 events per gender, and the team with the most points at the end wins.

 

Oregon is serving as NCAA Outdoor Championships host institution for the fifth season in a row in a run that’s slated to run through 2021.

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