ACU Women’s track and field wins first Southland Indoor Team Title

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Abilene Christian women’s track and field scored 107 points and earned 10 medals over two days at the Birmingham Crossplex to win their first Southland Conference indoor team championship.

The Wildcats entered Monday’s slate of events in second with 30 points and kept climbing thanks to eight medals (four gold, three silver and a bronze) that led to a whopping 77 points across nine events.

“It’s extremely exciting to have scored in every area,” said head coach Jerrod Cook. “I feel our team is really balanced, and it’s amazing to see coaches and athletes accept their roles and do their parts so well. This meet was the perfect place to see everyone’s efforts rewarded and we’ll continue to grow as we move forward.”

ACU received late wins from Irene Rono (9:45.20 PR) in the 3K and Zoe Spinn in the high jump (1.80m / 5-10.75) to take a six point lead on a Northwestern State squad, which had finished as the runner-up the last three years.

And the Wildcats made certain the Lady Demons (103 points) were bridesmaids once more as the ACU 4×400-meter relay of Savannah Walker, Mya Henson, Rylee Jordan, Noriyah Johnson posted a second-place finish of 3:50.54.

NSU won the relay by more than three seconds (3:47.10), but it was never going to be enough to overtake the Wildcats who topped the remaining nine teams in the field to capture their first conference team title since 2013 (their last year in the Lone Star Conference).

The two-time defending champions from Stephen F. Austin, which leads the Southland with 10 indoor championships, placed third with 92 points, followed by Central Arkansas (52) and New Orleans (48).

“I’m so excited but still in a little bit of shock,” said Cook, whose association with the Wildcats dates back to 2006. “I’m overwhelmed by this blessing, so all the glory to God. We all did our best. Things came together and it worked out great.”

ACU began its ascent as soon as Monday’s events started. Yesterday’s pentathlon silver medalist Megan Kirby added another medal to her collection with a third-place run in the 60-meter hurdles (8.69 PR) and then senior Taylor Tolen collected two medals and 18 points between the 60m and 200m dashes.

Tolen was second in the 60m to NSU’s Lynelle Washington, losing out on gold by .01 seconds, 7.49 to 7.50, but stood atop the podium an hour later after winning the 200m in 24.16. New Orleans’ Shamarah Shannon was second in 24.65.

Elsewhere on the track, senior Briahna Gerlach garnered an all-important four points in the mile run (5:02.88), while in the field events , senior Annina Brandenburg successfully defended her indoor shot put title (15.49m / 50-10) for her fifth Southland medal since 2019 outdoors. Sophomore Ella Anttila also was awarded silver for her triple jump of 12.76m (41-10.50).

Gerlach again would score in the 3K, placing eighth with a time of 10:12.79, while Rono’s winning mark of 9:45.20 pushed her to third on the Wildcats’ all-time performer list behind legends Michaela (9:30.75) and Alexandria Hackett (9:33.83).

Spinn’s gold medal high jump also placed her among the Wildcat elite as she is one of just four student-athletes to eclipse the 1.80m mark along with Maresa Cadienhead (1.89), Yolanda Henry (1.83) and Mazel Thomas (1.82). Her leap currently ranks 16th in the NCAA.

ACU’s four champions this week were its most at any Southland Indoor meet, beating the previous record of three from 2016. That year’s placed second with 112.5 points (Sam Houston State won with 162) and featured both Hackett twins, plus champion pole vaulter Kenzie Walker and two-time 400m gold medal winner Kimone Green.

The ACU men placed fifth (65 points) this week despite scoring a point more than last year’s third-place total of 64.

Sunday’s weight throw champion Tyler Richardson followed that effort with a silver-medal showing in the shot put, reaching a distance of 16.63m (54-06.75), while freshman teammate Athan Huelskamp took sixth with a mark of 15.31m (50-02.75).

“I’m so proud to share this journey with Tyler on a daily basis,” said Cook, who doubles as the program’s throws coach. “We’ve had lots of talks about shifting our mindsets, and he went out there this week and was relaxed, had fun and threw great in both events. I’m looking forward to continue working with him the next two years.”

Another young two-time medalist this week was sprinter Jack Marshall who leaves the CrossPlex with a pair of bronze won in the 60m (6.86) and 200m (21.30).

“Jack is an amazing talent and contributor,” said Cook, “who brings an upperclassman mentality to the team as a freshman. He has very high goals and expectations, and I greatly admire his love of the sport and drive.”

The men today collected an additional five points in the sprint hurdles from Harrison Manuel and Jamal January, and received four from first-year multi athlete JJ Ply, whose win in the Heptathlon 1,000-meter run (2:48.11) pushed him into fifth place with 5,055 points.

SFA won the men’s team title with 105 points followed by Southeastern Louisiana (100), Houston Baptist (77.5) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (73).

Next up on the track and field schedule are the NCAA Indoor Championships hosted by Arkansas March 12-13, and outdoor season has its official start the following weekend (March 18-20) as ACU hosts its annual Wes Kittley Invitational.

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