10 Women’s Pro & College Storylines to Follow at Mt. SAC Relays 2023
Cunningham seeks 8th straight Relays high jump title; Stanford freshmen phenoms Willis & Whittaker headline 800 meters; Texas A&M vs. USC epic 4×400 rematch
By Erik Boal, DyeStat Editor
WALNUT, Calif. – Here are 10 storylines involving female college and professional athletes competing at one of the nation’s most prestigious track & field competitions, the 63rd Mt. SAC Relays presented by Nike.
#1 Cunningham hoping to reach elite eight
Vashti Cunningham matched the success of Debbie Brill from 1970-85 with her seventh career high jump victory at the Mt. SAC Relays last year, clearing 6-5 (1.96m).
But the 25-year-old Cunningham, representing Nike and Red Bull, might be facing her most significant challenge in all of her appearances at the event when she squares off Saturday in the invitational elite high jump against reigning NCAA Division 1 indoor and outdoor champion, along with Commonwealth Games gold medalist Lamara Distin of Texas A&M.
Distin, a 23-year-old standout representing Jamaica, finished ninth at last year’s World Athletics Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., and Cunningham was unable to qualify for the final, tying for 18th overall.
Distin boasts personal-best clearances of 6-5.50 (1.97m) both indoors and outdoors. Cunningham has cleared 6-7.50 (2.02m) outdoors and 6-6.75 (2.01m) indoors, but her best performance at the Mt. SAC Relays is 6-5.50 in 2019, when the meet was held at El Camino College.
Cunningham secured high school victories at Hilmer Lodge Stadium in 2014-15, but then prevailed at Cerritos College in 2016 and El Camino College from 2017-19, before returning to the renovated venue in Walnut to triumph again last year.
Georgia All-American Elena Kulichenko, representing Cyprus, is also scheduled to compete, along with BYU All-American Cierra Tidwell, former LSU standout Abby O’Donoghue, 2019 Division 1 indoor champion Zarriea Willis and ASICS professional athlete Jelena Rowe.
There have been only a pair of 2-meter clearances in meet and stadium history, with Tisha Waller clearing 6-6.75 in 1999 and Chaunte Lowe equaling the performance in 2006.
#2 Experience vs. youth in sprint showdowns
Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, 34, continued to demonstrate she isn’t slowing down at all in her career, running a lifetime-best 10.72 in the 100 meter dash last year and placing seventh in the World Athletics Championships final.
Ta Lou is entered Saturday in the invitational elite 100 and 200, and will have the opportunities to square off against American professional competitor Destiny Smith-Barnett of Double Pillar Athletics, Canadian professional athlete Khamica Bingham, along with collegiate standouts Caisja Chandler and Samirah Moody of USC, freshmen Autumn Wilson and Kaila Jackson from Georgia, Oregon’s Jadyn Mays and Houston’s Cecilia Tamayo-Garza.
Chandler ran a wind-legal 10.99 to win the Trojan Invitational on April 8 at USC, with Wilson clocking a wind-legal 22.56 on April 7 at the Spec Towns and Torrin Lawrence Invitational in Athens, both entering Saturday’s races as the collegiate leaders.
Ta Lou only competed once during the indoor season in Germany in January.
Merlene Ottey of Jamaica still holds the meet record of 10.87 seconds in the 100 from 1987, with American athlete Sha’Carri Richardson producing the all-time stadium mark of 10.74 in 2021.
Twanisha “TeeTee” Terry won the invitational elite section last year in a wind-aided 10.77.
Gabby Thomas, a New Balance professional and American standout, produced the meet and stadium records in the 200 last year by clocking 22.02. Ta Lou finished fourth in 22.64.
#3 Middle-distance matchup adds international flavor
Raevyn Rogers became the first female collegiate athlete to produce a sub-2 performance in the invitational elite 800 meters at the 2017 Mt. SAC Relays, running an NCAA record 1:59.10 to edge former Ducks standout Laura Roesler (1:59.54) at El Camino College.
Although Athing Mu ran 1:57.73 in 2021 to eclipse Rogers’ collegiate all-time mark at the Michael Johnson Classic at Baylor, there has not been another sub-2 effort by an NCAA athlete since then at the meet, but that has the potential to change Saturday.
Stanford teammates Roisin Willis and Juliette Whittaker, who took the top two spots in the Division 1 indoor 800 final March 11 in New Mexico, are scheduled to compete in a race that is also expected to include China’s ChunYu Wang, who finished fifth at the Tokyo Olympics and boasts a personal record 1:57.00.
Whittaker and Willis both achieved sub-2 performances in high school and were also medalists at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Colombia. Willis prevailed by a 1:59.93 to 2:00.05 margin in the NCAA indoor championship race.
They have the potential to join the group of five female collegiate athletes – Suzy Favor Hamilton of Wisconsin, Alysia Montano of Cal, Katie Erdman of Michigan, Mu and Rogers – who have produced sub-2 efforts during the regular season.
Virginia Tech’s Lindsey Butler, the 2021 Division 1 indoor 800 champion, is also part of the field, along with Utah’s Josefine Eriksen and American professional athletes Kendra Chambers and Sammy Watson.
Rogers lowered her meet record to 1:58.77 last year, with Scotland’s Jemma Reekie producing a stadium all-time mark of 1:58.27 in 2021.
Continue reading at: mtsacrelays.runnerspace.com
Find more 63rd Mt. SAC Relays meet info HERE, including entrants, results, ticketing and more!