T&F Notebook: UC Women Earn First Top 25 Finish Ever
March 16, 2017

CINCINNATI - The 2017 indoor season has come to an end for the University of Cincinnati track and field program with the Bearcats having plenty to celebrate, including the program’s first national champion, the women’s first Top 25 finish and a pair of All-American highlighting yet another successful campaign. Annette Echikunwoke was crowned the champion of the women’s weight throw at the NCAA Championships to help the women’s team into the Top 25 as she also joined Adrian Valles as 2017 USTFCCCA All-America First Team honorees based on their Top 8 finishes.

With 10 points scored through Echikunwoke’s victory in the weight throw, the UC women placed in a tie for 21st place at the national meet, the best finish in program history. Previously, the best the women had finished came one year ago after the four points scored (three from Erika Hurd in the high jump for her sixth-place finish and one point from Echikunwoke after she placed eighth in the weight throw) gave the Bearcats a tie for 42nd-place nationally.

With their finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships, the women added to their list of historical accomplishments as it relates to the program. Looking at the indoor national meets, the tie for 21st is the first Top 25 placement in program history and just the second in the Top 35 after the women were 34th in 2012. When combining the men’s historical results, the women’s 2017 indoor finish is tied for the second-best in program history after the 1973 men’s outdoor squad placed in a tie for 16th. The 1972 men’s outdoor squad also was tied for 21st. Those three finishes are the only Top 25 placements the UC program has achieved.

Not only is the Top 25 finish for the Bearcats their first in indoor history, it also is the first for any women’s team in the American Athletic Conference since the league’s formation in 2013-14. Along with UC scoring in the past two meets, UCF tied for 56th this year for the only other AAC women’s team to score at nationals. When added to the finishes the men’s teams in the American have posted since the 2014 meet, this year’s edition of the UC women would rank tied the fifth-best placement of any school in the American after Tulsa placed 13th this year, Houston was tied for 16th both in 2016 and 2017 and Tulsa tied for 18th in 2015.

With her title in the weight throw, Echikunwoke not only earned first place, but also earned a few more firsts. The 2017 American Athletic Conference weight throw champion and shot put runner-up, Echikunwoke’s victory in College Station, Texas, made her first national champion in program history (men and women) and the first indoor national track and field champion in the history of the American. The closest a Bearcat had come previously was in 1972 and 1973 when Al Lanier finished second in the long jump four times for the men (twice indoor and twice outdoor) while also bettering the previous best of any UC woman after Kathy Klump placed fourth in the 2012 indoor 800m run for the Bearcats.

Following the national meet, the U.S. Track & Field, Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) announced its annual All-America honors with both Echikunwoke and Valles earning accolades. Both Bearcats were tabbed USTFCCCA All-America First Team honors after Echikunwoke won the national title in the weight throw and Valles was fifth in the men’s pole vault. The honor is the second indoors for Echikunwoke after she placed eighth one year ago while Valles is now a three-time indoor honoree after placing sixth in 2015 and fifth last year. All told, the duo has now won seven total All-America honors with Echikunwoke also taking eighth outdoors in hammer throw and Valles adding a fifth-place finish outdoors in 2015.

Throughout the year, the Bearcats continued to post improvements at each meet they competed. With the national meet included, the Bearcats combined for 295 season-best marks, 228 personal bests, 121 marks that ranked somewhere on the program’s all-time Top 10 charts and 18 marks that stood as school records. The women accumulated 178 of those season bests with 150 personal bests, 80 Top 10 marks and six school records while the men chipped in 117 season bests, 78 personal bests, 41 Top 10’s and 12 school records.

The Bearcats also had a solid showing at the American Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships at the end of February as the program combined to win eight conference titles with the six won on the women’s side helping the Bearcats to a runner-up finish in the team race. The women saw Bryana Robinson win the 400m dash before helping the team of Haisha Bisiolu, Tiona Lattimore and Deanna Gesicki win the 4x400m relay, both championships being the first in those events in the school’s indoor history. Adding to the collection were Loretta Blaut in the high jump (the fourth year in a row a Bearcat has won the women’s event), Kellsa Mbah in the long jump, Echikunwoke in the weight throw and Naomi Urbano in the pentathlon. The men got titles from Jimmy Brooks in the 400m dash and Valles in the pole vault. Following the meet, Echikunwoke and Valles both were tabbed as the field athletes of the meet to mark the second year in a row Echikunwoke won the women’s honor and the first time for Valles.

Valles and Juliana Madzia both were honored with academic honors toward the end of the season. Madzia, an all-conference performer in cross country, was selected for the American Athletic Conference Commissioner’s Postgradute Leadership Award as its female recipient. The award is given annually to one male and one female student-athlete across all sports sponsored by the American to those who have demonstrated leadership through excellence in academic credentials, athletic performance and depth of commitment to service within the institution or community. Valles earned a pair of honors, including being named the American Athletic Conferernce Male Student-Athlete of the Year before being tabbed for the NCAA Elite 90 Award, given annually to the student-athlete competing at the NCAA Championships that carries the highest GPA (3.966 in industrial management).

While the team is on its Spring Break this week, the outdoor season is just around the corner as the Bearcats will lift the lid on the outdoor campaign at the 2017 Raleigh Relays next Friday and Saturday (March 24-25) in Raleigh, N.C.