T&F: Bearcats Heading to Birmingham for American Championships
Feb. 22, 2017

Bearcats Note w/Results & Records (pdf) | The American Championship Page (link)

The University of Cincinnati track and field program is set to compete in the 2017 American Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships this week as the annual meet will take place inside the CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala., on Friday and Saturday (February 24-25). The Bearcats are coming off a strong showing at the 2016 American Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships in which the men finished third overall and the women sixth and will look to continue to build upon not only that strong showing, but also the solid results posted at both the indoor and outdoor meets of 2016.

Along with a full recap of each day's action that will be posted on GoBearcats.com, the team's social accounts also will provide periodic updates, including Twitter (@GoBearcatsTFXC), Instagram (GoBearcatsTFXC) and Facebook (Cincinnati Track & Field/Cross Country). Live results will be available at XPressTiming.com (http://www.xpresstiming.com/Live/2017/Indoor/American/) once the meet begins.

The American Digital Network (TheAmerican.org/watch) will stream both days of the championship meet, starting at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. local). For more information, visit TheAmerican.org/watch.

The 2017 meet will feature 11 women's teams and seven men's as each will compete for individual, relay and team championships. The women's meet will see competitors from (Top 50 rankings listed before school name) #34 Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, UCF, UConn and USF while the men's field of seven includes Cincinnati, East Carolina, #24 Houston, Memphis, #27 Tulsa, UConn and USF.

Team, individual and relay titles will be at stake this weekend. Along with a team champion, 15 individual and two relay champions also will be crowned at the annual conference event. Also, the meet will be the final competition in which athletes can post marks to try and gain entry into the NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas, March 10-11. Only the Top 16 in each event will earn a national berth.

1 - Echikunwoke's current NCAA weight throw ranking (22.53m)
2 - UC women going for 2nd-consecutive American T&F tile (`16 outdoor)
3 - Valles is looking to go 3-for-3 in American indoor pole vault comps.
4 - Valles' current NCAA ranking in the pole vault (5.57m)
5 - A Tudor Top 8 would = 5th UC man to do so in 4 meets in same event
7 - # of Top 8 marks in American held by true frosh on women's team
8 - # of events UC has not had a conference indoor champ (since `96)
9 - # of top marks in the American held by UC athletes

Last week, 17 Bearcats competed in the Buckeye Tune-Up with victories captured in three events. One of those victories came from Loretta Blaut in the high jump as she cleared 1.73m (5-08.00) to improve her season-best mark and improve her overall conference lead in the event in just her third meet of the season. With that performance, Blaut was tabbed as this week's American Athletic Conference Women's Field Athlete of the Week, her first accolade of the 2017 season, the eighth overall for the Bearcats program, the fifth for the UC women and the fourth women's field honor.

Heading into the American Championships, both Bearcats teams will be battling for team titles that would be their firsts. For the women, last year's second-place showing was the best in program history and a title this year would be their first indoor conference crown after capturing their first team title at the conference level last year at the outdoor championships. For the men, a title would be their first in the American as well as their first indoor title since winning the Great Midwest Conference in 1995.

Dating back to 1981 for the men and 1996 for the women, there are only eight different events that a Bearcat has not won a conference title in (of the current 17 events contested). Neither gender has won the 60m dash title. The men also have not produced a champion in the heptathlon and the 60m hurdles while the women's list includes the 400m, 3,000m, 5,000m, 4x400m relay and the distance medley relay. Heading into this week's meet, the Bearcats are positioned to knock a couple of those events off the list as Alex Bloom is ranked first in the men's heptathlon while Bryana Robinson is the top-seed in the women's 400m dash.

During his time in Cincinnati, Adrian Valles has certainly made the most of his trips to the conference meet as he has entered four previously and won all four. Valles will look to make it three in a row on the indoor runway this week in Birmingham which, if successful, would make him the first UC man to win three or more conference titles in the same event at the conference level. To date, he joins Chris Watkins (long jump), Ron Quercioli (high jump) and Scott Ference (shot put and weight throw) as the four men to have won the same event twice. Also, a Valles victory would make him just the third Bearcat to win the same event three or more times in a career, joining Kathy Klump, who won the women's mile four times, and Erika Hurd, who won the past three high jump crowns before graduating last spring.

This year's meet marks the fourth in the history of the American. Through the first three meets, the women's high jump has known only one winner: Cincinnati's Erika Hurd. With Hurd graduated, one thing that is known is there will be a new champion crowned in the event this week. Heading into the meet, Loretta Blaut, who currently leads the conference with a best of 1.73m (5-08.00), will look to keep the crown in the Queen City for a fourth year as she eyes her first title.

Macklin Tudor heads into the meet ranked second in the shot put (by one centimeter). In his previous three meets, he has finished fourth twice and took runner-up honors last year as he threw a school-record 18.19m. Should Tudor place in the Top 8 once again, he will become fifth UC man and the 15th Bearcat overall to score points in the conference meet four times in the same event. The last time this happened for the men was in 1998 when Jeremy Bucher finished fourth in the 5,000m run after placing fifth, sixth and sixth in the previous races. On the women's side, the last time this happened as just last year as three ladies accomplished the feat: Javette Lee in the 60m hurdles; Kenya Woodall in the 400m dash and Erika Hurd in the high jump.

Not only do the Bearcats hold the top mark in nine different events heading into the conference meet, they also hold the top positions in both the men's and women's sides of two events. The duo of Bryana Robinson (53.70) and Jimmy Brooks (47.39) both lead the charts for the 400m dash while multi-event specialists Naomi Urbano (pentathlon) and Alex Bloom (heptathlon) hold the top marks in their respective events.

Looking over the final descending order lists prior to the championships, there are five events that standout as big point opportunity for the Bearcats. Based on points assigned to current season marks, the women's pentathlon has four individuals ranked in the Top 8, including #1 Naomi Urbano (10 points), #2 Katie Straus (8), #7 Maggie Loeffler (2) and #8 Angelica Lightfoot (1), meaning that, if those seedings hold true, the Bearcats would collect 21 points. The remaining events UC could see big gains from are the 400m dash and high jump. For the men, the 400m dash (1st-5th-6th-7th) currently stands at 19 points while the high jump (2nd-4th-8th) is 14 points. On the women's side, the 400m dash (1st-4th-7th) would mean 17 points while the high jump (1st-4th-5th) would account for 19 points.

The Bearcats have combined to record 44 marks that currently rank in the Top 8 of the American standings with 26 posted by the women and 18 more from the men. Of those 26 marks recorded by the ladies, eight were earned by five different true freshmen. Irati Mitxelena is ranked fifth in both the long jump and triple jump while Tiona Lattimore stands seventh in both the 200m and 400m dashes. Katie Straus has the highest standing of all the rookies as she ranks second in the pentathlon while Lily Bunse (sixth) and Angelica Lightfoot (eighth) are ranked among the Top 8 in the pole vault and the pentathlon, respectively.

With one meet remaining before the national championships, three Bearcats are on the cusp of making an appearance in College Station, Texas. Currently, Annette Echikunwoke's toss of 22.53m (73-11.00) ranks tied for first nationally while she is the only individual to record a mark of 22.00m+ multiple times this year (three). Adrian Valles is ranked fourth in the men's pole vault with his clearance of 5.57m (18-03.25) and should be back at the national meet to contend for his third-consecutive indoor All-American honor. As it stands now, Alex Bloom would be in the national meet in the heptathlon as he holds the 16th-best mark overall and only the Top 16 make the national field. His 5,604 points tallied at Texas A&M earlier this month may need to be improved upon this weekend in order for him to qualify for his first national appearance.

So far this season, two women's event records have been broken with Annette Echikunwoke shattering her own mark in the weight throw on two different occasions while Bryana Robinson took over the top spot in the 400m dash. Echikunwoke entered the year with a best of 21.64m before moving up to 21.76m and then all the way up to her current mark of 22.53m. Robinson, who was ranked second in the event heading into the year, ran 53.70 to break the school record by 0.03, a mark that was run by All-American Kenya Woodall.

Names moving up in the record book is nothing new, especially for the women's program over the past few seasons. While one or two names being added is normal, the women's mile has been bucking that trend. When the season started, three current Bearcats were among the Top 10, including #2 Alexis Anton, #5 Meg Westerheide and #6 Tes Corea. Over the past three weeks, the ladies have made a lot of movements with three others joining them on the list at least once this year. Westerheide has improved her time by 5.02 seconds and is now #2 at 5:00.32, pushing Anton to #3. While Corea remained #6 (5:05.39), Vanessa Robinson and Madison Dunlap have joined the list as they rank #7 (5:05.87) and #9 (5:07.35), respectively. Before Robinson and Dunlap raced their way onto the list, Marina Wrede had joined the list at #10 in 5:09.09, but that mark has been pushed down to #12 as Grace O'Donnell first ran the identical time as Wrede before improving to 5:08.88 last week in Columbus. All told, seven of the Top 12 times are now held by current Bearcats.

Apparently, things are bigger in Texas and Alex Bloom proved that as he had quite the weekend in College Station (2/3-4). The junior multi-event specialist competed in the heptathlon and recorded personal bests in all seven events to record 5,604 points, just 12 off the school record and only the second time in UC history a man has scored 5,600+ points in an indoor heptathlon. Along with the most points scored in UC history on the first day of competition (3,212) and the fourth-most on the second day (2,392), Bloom broke two individual event records, setting the new standard for the heptathlon long jump (7.19m) and the heptathlon high jump (2.10m), a mark that also set a meet record, surpassing the mark previously held by world champion Ashton Eaton. The conference leader in the heptathlon, Bloom now ranks 16th in the NCAA.

In the latest USTFCCCA National Computer Rankings (February 20), both Bearcats remained close to where they have been all season as the women moved up one position to #34 while the men slipped three positions to #55. Regionally, both teams held where they were one week prior as the women are #8 in the Great Lakes and men are #11 in the same.

Included with the latest release of the national computer rankings was the release of the updated Event Squad rankings, a listing of ranks for each contested NCAA event comparing the best four marks of each school. The Bearcats have five squads ranked in the national Top 40 and are led by the women's pentathlon, who ranks seventh overall. Also ranked in the Top 40 for the women are the shot put (#15), high jump (#24) and 400m dash. The men have one Top 40 squad and that is the #36 400m dash squad.

According to the world lists on Tilastopaja.org, Annette Echikunwoke ranks #7 in the world in the women's weight throw (22.53m), which keeps her at #22 on the all-time Top 50 listing as well. Echikunwoke is the lone Bearcat on the world list this week as Adrian Valles' clearance of 5.57m in the pole vault is just outside the Top 20 listings.

On the strength of several strong showings at the Gladstein Invitational, the January 24 release of the USTFCCCA National Computer Rankings revealed a bit of history for the Bearcats as the UC women moved up to #25 in the nation while the men climbed to #50, a record ranking for both teams. For the women, the ranking is their 10th week in a row as a member of the Top 50 with the #25 position bettering their previous record-high of #28, which they received in Week 1 last year. The men recorded their record-high for the second week in a row after opening the preseason at #52, which bettered the #65 ranking record from Week 5 in 2012.

Adrian Valles was on fire at the Gladstein Invitational January 20 as the junior made short work of the field in the pole vault before setting his sights on taking down records. After easily clearing 5.10m and 5.30m on successive attempts, Valles had the bar raised to 5.52m (18-01.25), which he cleared on his third attempt. With that clearance, he moved into the top spot on the NCAA list (another athlete cleared 5.53m the next day to push Valles to #2). From there, he asked for the bar to be raised to 5.66m, which was 1cm above his lifetime best of 5.66m. Although he didn't clear the final height, he did have several solid attempts and looks ready to go higher this season.

Sergio Acera had a strong showing at the Gladstein Invitational (January 20-21) as the junior swept the horizontal jumps with victories in the triple jump and the long jump in Indiana. On Friday night, Acera captured the triple jump with a best of 14.62m (47-11.75), which not only is a PR, but also stands as the sixth-best bounce in program history. The next day, he returned to the runway and won the long jump with a best of 7.24m (23-09.00). Although it was under his season and career-bests, he did enough to win the event.

Along with the marks recorded by Acera (TJ), Brooks (60m, 600m), Echikunwoke (WT), Mbah (60m, LJ) and Valles (PV), five other Bearcats turned in marks that also ranked among the program's all-time Top 10 at the Gladstein Invitational (January 20-21). For the women, Bryana Robinson and Haisha Bisiolu moved up in the 200m dash as they ran the third (24.24) and sixth-fastest (24.47) times, respectively, while junior transfer Ashley Williams added her name to the shot put list at #7 with a toss of 14.70m (48-02.75) and rookie Irati Mitxelena added her name to the triple jump list at #3 with a bounce of 11.98m (39-03.75). On the men's side, Macklin Tudor improved his #4 all-time mark in the weight throw with his toss of 17.98m (59-00.00).

When combining the number of scores/marks possible between the four women that competed in the pentathlon, the ladies, at most, could have posted 24 personal bests and 24 all-time UC Top 10 marks (six per women, including overall score and each of the five individual events). At the Thundering Herd Invitational, those four women combined to record 19 personal bests and 12 marks that now rank among the program's all-time Top 10. Urbano (#4 all-time score) recorded four event Top 10's (#3 high jump, #8 800m, #9 long jump and #10 60m hurdles); Straus (#6 score) recorded three Top 10's (#4 60m hurdles, #6 800m and #8 high jump; Lightfoot posted two Top 10's (#5 60m hurdles, #5 shot put) and Loeffler recorded one Top 10 (#9 60m hurdles).

The women's distance runners had a strong showing at Marshall as 13 women compete in four events (800m, Mile, 3,000m and 5,000m) with nine times being recorded as personal-bests for their collegiate indoor careers. All five women in the mile recorded indoor PRs while three others in the 3,000m and one in the 5,000m joined in on the PR-fest. The races marked the first large group of competitors for the women since their impressive cross country season that included their best conference finish in 11 years.

On January 9, Student-Athlete Support Services (S.A.S.S.) released numbers on the academic successes of the UC Athletics Department with the track & field/cross country program well represented. As a team, the men's side combined to post a cumulative GPA of 3.604, the highest of any men's team on campus. Sixty Bearcats (28 men, 32 women) achieved Bearcats Honor Roll status by recording a 3.0 or better GPA. Of that group, 38 (16M/22W) were selected for the Dean's List by posting a 3.4 or better GPA while eight Bearcats (4M/4W) were recognized as TopCats, a distinction given to those that carry a 4.0 GPA in the semester. The eight TopCats include: Sergio Acera, James Toner, Adrian Valles and Ben Wollenslegel for the men and the group of Nicole Breeden, Juliana Madzia, Grace O'Donnell and Tessa Ward for the women.

At the end of the 2016 indoor season, four Bearcats claimed All-America honors with three of those individual set to return in 2017. The USTFCCCA All-America First Team honorees for the Bearcats last season were Adrian Valles in the men's pole vault and women's competitors Annette Echikunwoke (weight throw) and Erika Hurd (high jump). Loretta Blaut also garnered USTFCCCA All-America Second Team honors in the high jump as well. Of those four Bearcats, only Hurd will not return this year as she graduated from UC following the Spring 2016 semester.

Following a week off from competition, those Bearcats that qualify will travel to College Station, Texas, for the 2017 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships hosted by Texas A&M. The meet will take place Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11, inside the Gilliam Indoor Stadium. The national meet will put a wrap on the indoor season with the first outdoor competition slated to be held March 24-25 in Raleigh, N.C., at NC State's Raleigh Relays.