The Hilltopper Relays at Western Kentucky University last weekend held great results for the Cougars, prepping the track and field teams for their home meet this Saturday.

Head Coach Eileen McAllister said the meet has set the Cougars up to perform very well for the rest of the season.

“It was a really good weekend for us. I was really pleased and happy,” McAllister said. “It was definitely a step in the right direction across the board.”

Senior Jessica Oranika gave an exciting performance in the 400-meter run. She took second place with a time of 53.94 seconds, setting Oranika’s place in the NCAA first round.

“Jessica Oranika’s 400 was probably one of the most notable over the weekend. She broke 54 seconds; she definitely solidified her spot for the NCAA first round, she just missed the top spot in the [Ohio Valley Conference], and the only time she’s run faster is at the NCAA meet last year,” McAllister said. “She’s way ahead of where she was last year at this time, which is really promising. She’s continuing to impress and improve, and I’m super excited to see where she’ll be in the next couple of weeks.”

Senior Braxton Klavins had a season best and a second-place finish in the 400-meter run with a time of 47.45. Klavins currently holds the top time in the OVC.

“He’s continuing to run well, and he’s continuing to drop time,” McAllister said.

Sophomore Erin Kennedy, junior Haley Briggs and senior Luke Padesky competed in the 1,500-meter — a shorter distance than their usual events. McAllister said their performances reflected the success of their training.

“They’re primarily 10K and 5K people, so they run longer, and the 1,500 is kind of out of their comfort zone. They stepped right in and were very competitive,” McAllister said. “I think it’s a big confidence booster for them — it’s something we talk about all the time, that I want them to be able to step on the track and, no matter what event, they should be able to cover a range; everything from the 800 all the way up to the 5K and know that their training is there to back them up.” 

Freshman Haley Miller tried the steeplechase for the first time this weekend. McAllister said due to the nature of the event, she has not had many chances to practice it.

“I thought she did well — it’s a really strenuous event, and I thought she handled it well. It’s one of those events that we don’t get a ton of opportunity to practice. I thought she did well for the limited exposure she’s had,” McAllister said. “I think she’ll improve a lot the next couple races that she has.”

Senior Ahmad Evans placed third in the 200-meter with a personal best of 21.1, followed by junior Darius Smith with a personal best of 21.39. Freshman Martinus Mitchell beat his previous record in the discus, throwing 159 feet, 2 inches. McAllister said these were just a few of the personal records and good performances.

“[Smith] and [Evans] in the 200 both ran well. Ahmad [Smith’s] time is the No. 2 all-time at SIUE. He had a good weekend. Mitchell had a huge PR in the discus, so that was good to see. There were lots of PRs and different breakthroughs,” McAllister said.

Junior LaDonna Caston took a break from her normal short sprints and hurdle races after recovering from a hamstring strain a few weeks ago. Caston competed in the 400 instead, placing fourth in 57.5. McAllister said the change in event was to prevent further injury.

“[Caston is] coming off an injury. She got injured, actually, at the Vanderbilt weekend, so we didn’t want to have her do the hurdles or anything short and fast. The 400 is a little bit less stress on her injury. She’s good now, we’re just playing it safe,” McAllister said.

McAllister said the teams are setting up to qualify for NCAA and the OVC meets, competing for top spots and trying to make qualifying marks to compete.

“We’re looking to keep solidifying marks to get people qualified for postseason, so we want to get more people qualified there, solidify marks for going to the OVC, so people have good standings and good positions going in there,” McAllister said. “We’re looking to continue to open up people in their primary events, and we’d love to get more times for postseason and set us up for conference.”

The Cougars’ first home meet will be this Saturday, April 18, at Ralph Korte Stadium. Throwing events will start at 2:30 p.m. and running will begin at 3 p.m. McAllister said there will be promotional giveaways for a portion of those in attendance.

“We’ve got 200 T-shirts to give to the first 200 people to walk through the gate. The first hundred students to enter with their student ID will get a free hot dog from concessions. We’re really excited to get people out to watch the meet on Saturday,” McAllister said.

 After great results at the Hilltopper Relays, the athletes are gearing up to perform well at their first home meet of the season. McAllister said the teams look forward to competing on their home turf.

“We always run really well at home — it’s an amazing facility, it’s designed for big meets and great competition. We’ve got some great teams coming over. Our kids love to perform at home in front of their friends and family. Coming off of this weekend, we’re looking forward to seeing more great performances from the team,” McAllister said. “We’re just looking forward to our home meet and the home crowd, and getting as many people out there as possible. It should be a high quality and action-packed meet.”

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