T&F: Two Bearcats Heading to NCAA Indoor Meet This Weekend
March 7, 2017

Bearcats Notes w/Updated Marks & Records (pdf)

Two members of the University of Cincinnati track and field program have been selected to compete in the 2017 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships with both Annette Echikunwoke and Adrian Valles set to take on the nation at the annual meet being held inside the Gilliam Indoor Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M this Friday and Saturday, March 10-11. The meet, which will have portions streamed live on ESPN3, will be the final indoor competition of the season and will be used to determine individual and team national champions along with those individuals and relays that will be named All-Americans.

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). Fans can also follow the NCAA Twitter account (@NCAATrackField) for results and other content and by searching for #ncaaTF. Live results will be available at FlashResults.com once the meet begins.

ESPN3 will stream portions of the meet live online both days with action on Friday, March 10, starting at 6:25 p.m. ET (5:25 p.m. local to the championship site) and then again at 4:55 p.m. ET (3:55 p.m. local to the site) on Saturday, March 11. On Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 will re-air the championships as well. The talent calling the action for ESPN will include Dwight Stones, Larry Rawson, John Anderson and Larra Overton.

The meet will feature the best in the nation as those individuals and relay teams that ranked among the Top 16 nationally at the end of the conference championships at the end of February will comprise the field of competitors for this week’s competition. All events will be contested to crown a national champion with the Top 8 finishers in each event (individual and relay) earning points for their team as well as garnering USTFCCCA All-America First Team accolades. At the end of the competition Saturday night, the Top 4 teams in each gender will earn trophies based on cumulative point totals with the highest score capturing the team NCAA title.

1 - Number of UC women that will be competing this weekend - Annette Echikunwoke (weight throw)
1 - Number of UC men that will be competing this weekend - Adrian Valles (pole vault)
2 - Number of Bearcats that have competed in three NCAA indoor meets in their career (Wayne Mason, Valles)
2 - Number of Bearcats named American Athletic Field Athlete of the Meet this season (Valles, Echikunwoke)
2 - Number of events won by UC women at the American that UC had never won before (400m, 4x400m)
3 - Number of years in a row Valles has qualified for and competed in the NCAA Indoor Championships
4 - Runner-up finishes in the national meet, the highest individual finishes in program history (all by Al Lanier)
5 - Number of consecutive American Athletic Conference pole vault crowns won by Valles (3 indoor, 2 outdoor)
6 - Number of times Echikunwoke has thrown over 22 meters this year (rest of the nation has 5 total)
7 - Number of individual Bearcats (8x) that have competed in the same event at NCAA indoors 2 or more times
8 - Number of American Athletic Conference individual titles won in Birmingham, Ala., February 24-25

The 2017 American Athletic Conference Championships were held inside the CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala., February 24-25, with the Bearcats posting some very strong performances, including 60 season-best marks, 47 personal bests, 42 marks that now rank among the all-time Top 10 in program history and nine broken school records to along with the eight conference titles won. The women captured six of those titles with gold medals going to Bryana Robinson (400m dash), Kellsa Mbah (long jump), Loretta Blaut (high jump), Annette Echikunwoke (weight throw), Naomi Urbano (pentathlon) and the 4x400m relay team of Haisha Bisiolu, Deanna Gesicki, Tiona Lattimore and Robinson. On the men’s side, Adrian Valles won his third-consecutive pole vault title while Jimmy Brooks was the 400m champ. As a team, the women scored 120 points and finished second to UCF by two points while the men placed fifth overall.

Following the meet, the Conference’s head coaches voted for several awards with Annette Echikunwoke being selected the American Athletic Conference Female Field Athlete of the Meet for the second year in a row while Adrian Valles was selected as the American Athletic Conference Male Field Athlete of the Meet. Echikunwoke scored 18 team points as she won the weight throw for the second year in a row, this time with a school, meet and facility record toss of 22.69m before placing second with a PR toss of 15.99m in the shot put. Valles won his third-consecutive indoor conference crown, this time with a school and meet record clearance of 5.60m, to give him five-consecutive American Athletic Conference titles after having won the past two outdoor titles as well.

Valles’ also garnered another honor earlier last week as the Conference announced the Spaniard as the 2016-17 American Athletic Conference Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The school’s selection as the top male scholar-athlete (senior academic standing), Valles was matched up against representatives from the league’s other 10 institutions with the Conference selecting Valles as the top scholar-athlete among the 11 candidates. Valles, who will receive $4,000 in post-graduate scholarships to continue his education, is the second Bearcat to earn the honor in the four years the American has selected a scholar-athlete of the year after Brian Barney earned the same honor for the 2014-15 academic year.

When Valles and Echikunwoke step into the competition area this weekend, it will not be the first time they have competed on the national level after both were in the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championships with both also earning Top 8 placements and USTFCCCA All-America First Team honors. In fact, both have qualified to compete in the national meet in at least three-consecutive meets to date. For Valles, this year’s meet entry is his fifth-consecutive after competing in the 2015 and 2016 indoor meets, as well as the 2015 and 2016 outdoor competitions. For Echikunwoke, this is her third national meet in a row after placing eighth in both the indoor weight throw and the outdoor hammer last year.

Along with having been to the national competition in the past, competing at Texas A&M will not be new, either, as both found success inside the Gilliam Indoor Complex earlier this year as participants in the Charlie Thomas Invitational (February 3-4). In the weight throw, Echikunwoke won the event as she sent the 20-pound ball out to 22.10m (72-06.25) for the second week in a row and, at the time, breaking the 22-meter mark for third time in 2017. Valles also won his event, taking the pole vault title with a best of 5.57m (18-03.25). That mark, his second clearance of 18-feet in as many meets, saw him break the meet record while also breaking the school record the second time in 2017. He nearly cleared 5.66m as well, coming up just shy in his bid to clear a life-time best (indoor and outdoor included).

In the history of the program, Cincinnati has not had a national champion in track & field. In fact, the University has seen only four individuals reach the top rung of the national ladder with two each coming in diving and swimming. The last time a UC student-athlete was crowned as the national champion was in 2010 when Josh Schneider won the men’s 50 freestyle. Prior to that, Becky Ruehl captured the platform diving event at the 1996 championships, marking the first - and only - women’s national title won. UC also has a 3m diving title from Pat Evans in 1989 and a 200 butterfly crown from Charles Keating in 1946. The closest the Bearcat track & field competitors have come came in 1972 and 1973 when Al Lanier took national runner-up honors in the long jump at the indoor and outdoor meets both years, giving him four, second-place finishes. The best placement for the women came in 2012 when Kathy Klump was fourth in the indoor 800m run.

With his inclusion in the NCAA Championships, Adrian Valles is now just the second Bearcat (men and women) to compete in three-consecutive indoor national meets. Previously, the only Bearcat that had accomplished the feat was Wayne Mason, who as in the field for the 60y hurdles at the 1977, 1978 and 1979 competitions. Should Valles place among the Top 8 this week, he will join Al Lanier in elite company as well, tying the jumps specialist for the most career indoor Top 8 showings with three after Lanier was second in the long jump in both 1972 and 1973 and added a third-place medal in the triple jump at the 1972 national meet.

Annette Echikunwoke is no stranger to breaking records and a Top 8 showing this weekend would break another record in UC history. Dating back to the start of the women’s program in 1996, Echikunwoke is one of just five women that have placed in the Top 8 after she placed eighth one year ago in the weight throw. A Top 8 finish this season would make her the first woman to do so in two national indoor meets.

Heading into the meet, both Bearcats also have a chance to record the best showing in their respective program histories. On the men’s side, Al Lanier’s runner-up showings in the long jump at the 1972 and 1973 indoor meets are the highest a UC man has placed, meaning a championship from Valles would be the new standard while a runner-up finish would equal the best in program history. On the women’s side, Kathy Klump’s fourth-place finish in the 2012 800m run is the best finish for a Bearcats woman, meaning first, second or third for Echikunwoke would be the best in program history while fourth-place would tie the mark.

Echikunwoke enters the national championships ranked second nationally with a best toss of 22.69m (74-05.50), the mark she used to win the American Athletic Conference weight throw title for the second year in a row. The 2016 and 2017 American Athletic Conference Female Field Athlete of the Meet, Echikunwoke has recorded six throws of 22.00m or better this year while the rest of the nation has just five more combined. The junior from Pickerington, Ohio, entered a weight throw competition seven times this year, winning five outright titles, taking second once (she was the top collegiate finisher) and fouling out in one event. She has reset her own school record on three occasions this season and, since the start of the 2016 indoor season, has improved her personal-best distance to 14’ 4.5” in total.

The 2017 NCAA meet will be the third in a row indoors for Valles with the junior from Pamplona, Spain, looking to secure his third-consecutive All-America honor and Top 8 placement after finishing sixth as a freshman in 2015 and sixth last year. The three-time American Athletic Conference Indoor Pole Vault Champion enters this week’s national meet with the fourth-best clearance in the nation at 5.60m after clearing that height to win the conference title and break the school and meet records. That clearance broke his own school record for the third time this season while also gave him his second meet record of the year after broke the standard at the Charlie Thomas Invitational at Texas A&M earlier this year. A five-time conference champion and three-time All-American, Valles has cleared 18’ three times this year for the first time.

Last week, Adrian Valles was named the 2016-17 American Athletic Conference Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the 2016-17 academic year, earning the top academic honor in the league among male student-athletes. Valles was Cincinnati’s nominee and received a $2,000 postgraduate scholarship before adding $2,000 to that total after being chosen by the American Athletic Conference Academic Affairs Committee as the scholar-athlete of the year among each of the 11 institution’s honorees. Also, Valles, an industrial management major, was recently selected as the Student-Athlete of the Month for March by UC Student-Athlete Support Services (S.A.S.S.).

On Tuesday, distance runner Juliana Madzia was tabbed by the league as the female recipient of the Commissioner’s Postgraduate Leadership Award. Given annually to one male and one female student-athlete from an American Athletic Conference-sponsored sport, each recipient was selected base on demonstrating leadership through excellence in academic credentials, athletic performance and depth of commitment to service within the institution/community while also having been admitted into a degree-granting or professional program for the next academic year. Madzia currently maintains a 4.00 GPA and holds several academic honors, including being named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, induction into Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa honors societies and working as a student researcher at UC, all while earning all-conference honors in cross country. For her efforts and selection for the award, Madzia, who plans to pursue a postgraduate track in medicine, will receive $5,000 in scholarships to help pursue her postgraduate goals.

The final USTFCCCA National Computer Rankings were released Monday with the Cincinnati women entering the national meet with a #36 ranking, moving up five spots from last week, while the men held steady at #53 this week. There was no updated to the regional rankings as last week’s release, which had the UC women at #7 and the men at #11, being the final regional release of the indoor season.

Looking at the latest update of the Collegiate Indoor Bests list prepared by the USTFCCCA, Echikunwoke’s toss of 22.69m at the American Championships has her poised to potentially join the all-time Top 10 list as D’Ana McCarty (Louisville) is currently the 10th woman on the Top 10 list with a best of 22.76m (74-08.25) that the Cardinal recorded at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships. It would currently take a mark of 24.17m or better to crack the all-time Top 10 marks list with Brittany Riley, the former world record holder (until last week) holding nine of the Top 10 marks.

Two of the Bearcats’ eight conference titles were the first in the program’s indoor conference history with both coming on the women’s side. Since starting the program in time for the 1996 indoor season, the Bearcats women have won at least one title in each of the currently contested events except the 60m, 400m, 3,000m, 5,000m, 4x400m and distance medley relay. Following this year’s conference meet, the women were able to scratch the 400m and 4x400m relay from that list as UC brought home gold in both. Bryana Robinson won the 400m dash in a school-record time of 53.52 before she anchored the team of Haisha Bisiolu, Deanna Gesicki and Tiona Lattimore to gold in the 4x400m relay with a school-record time of 3:40.13.

Adrian Valles not only won his third-consecutive pole vault title at the indoor conference meet, he also became the first Bearcat man to accomplish that feat. Prior to the meet, he had joined 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, Valles victory now makes 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 marked the fourth in the history of the American and, in that span, the women’s high jump champion has come from Cincinnati. Erika Hurd won the first three championships held before Loretta Blaut captured this year’s crown with a clearance of 1.73m (5-08.00), tying her season best.

Along with Robinson, her relay teammates and Blaut, three other Bearcats claimed their first conference titles, including one man and two women. On the men’s side, Jimmy Brooks won the 400m dash (47.28) for his first indoor crown and second title overall after he won the outdoor gold last spring. For the women, Kellsa Mbah took home the top spot in the long jump with a personal-best leap of 6.09m while Naomi Urbano, the season-long conference leader in the pentathlon, won the five-eventer with a personal-best score of 3,710 points.

Macklin Tudor took runner-up honors in the shot put for the second year in a row and, for the second year in a row, did so with a personal-best and school-record mark, this time chucking the ball out to 18.25m (59-10.50). With his Top 8 placement, Tudor became the 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.

Heading into the conference meet, two women had broken school records during the season with Annette Echikunwoke breaking her own mark in the weight throw twice and Bryana Robinson claiming the top spot in the 400m dash (53.70). Following the conference meet, both of those women improved their records with Echikunwoke going up to 22.69m in the weight throw while Robinson lowered the open quarter time to 53.52. Robinson was not done, however, as she anchored the team of Haisha Bisiolu, Tiona Lattimore and Deanna Gesicki to a record-time of 3:40.13 to win the 4x400m relay.

Similar to the women, the men had several broken records heading into the conference meet with Adrian Valles breaking his own pole vault mark twice; Jimmy Brooks running the fastest 600m time in UC history; and Alex Bloom breaking the marks in the heptathlon long jump and the heptathlon high jump. Following the meet, five more were added to the list, including Valles bettering his pole vault mark (5.60m); Macklin Tudor improved his shot put record to 18.25m; and Bloom recorded three records of his own, including the heptathlon 60m dash (7.06) before using a clearance of 2.16m (7-01.00) to break his own heptathlon high jump record (2.10m) as well as move up from seventh to the first in the open high jump (2.15m).

With his huge clearance in the heptathlon high jump of 2.16m (7-01.00), Alex Bloom not only broke the indoor record, he also became just the eighth different UC man to clear 7’ in competition, indoors and outdoors included. The seventh different Bearcat to clear that height indoors, Bloom’s mark ties him for the second-best mark in UC history with only Ron Johnson going over 2.21m (7-03.00) outdoors in 1983 for the best all-time. With Johnson clearing 7-2 twice and 7-1.25 once in his outdoor career, Bloom’s indoor mark now ties for the fifth highest in program history, regardless of venue.

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.

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).

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.

Following this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Championships, the indoor season will be officially wrapped, making way for the start of the outdoor campaign that gets underway March 24-25 at the Raleigh Relays in Raleigh, N.C., an event hosted by NC State.