GENEVA, Ohio – Setting two new conference records, four MSU records and adding three medals, the Michigan State track & field team concluded competition at the 2014 Big Ten Indoor Championships on Saturday. Tori Franklin (triple jump) and Leah O’Connor (mile) each won Big Ten titles en route to earning a spot in the conference record books, while Kurt Schneider (heptathlon) and Caleb Rhynard (5,000-meter) broke decade-old school records to close out the meet. At the end of competition, the Spartan women finished seventh overall with a total of 50 points, while the men tallied 51 points for an eighth-place finish.
“I thought as a group we did a lot of really positive things,” said director of track & field/cross country Walt Drenth. “We broke seven school records this weekend and four today. The kids that competed today were leaders, they were competitive, they were exceptional. It’s hard to break school records and they have seven of them happen in a championship; that’s unusual. There were a couple exceptions of people maybe not at their best. You would like to see us higher in the team standings, but at the same token, you can only be as good as you are. From my standpoint, I thought we were pretty good today. It’s certainly exciting to see us have a presence. I thought our energy throughout the meet today was excellent. The people that were done competing did a fantastic job of supporting their teammates. Those things help your group.
“Both Tori (Franklin) and Leah (O’Connor)’s performances were Big Ten records. Those are unbelievable historical markers. That’s not some fly-by-night mark. When you break the mile record with the storied history of distance running in the Big Ten conference, and you break the triple jump record which was held by [assistant coach Randy] Gillon’s wife, who is a former Illini, both feats are just incredible.”
Setting a new Big Ten indoor record and improving on her own MSU record in the triple jump, junior Tori Franklin won a gold medal with a mark of 13.56m/ 44-6. It marks the first conference title of her career, and third Big Ten medal of her career. Competing in just her first 200-meter race this season, Franklin improved on her prelim time to score fifth-place points by crossing the finish line in 23.83. It marks the fastest time on the team this season.
Redshirt junior Leah O’Connor broke the Big Ten Indoor record and her own school record in the mile, winning a gold medal with a time of 4:34.35. It is her first indoor title, fifth Big Ten medal of her career.
“Leah (O’Connor) stepping into the mile, leading from wire-to-wire, just sent a tremendous tone to the group,” Drenth said.
Winning the bronze medal in the heptathlon, redshirt senior Kurt Schneider broke the MSU record by totaling 5,738 points. It is the highest point total earned by a Spartan since 2001. On the second day of competition, he placed second overall in the 60-meter hurdles, crossing the finish line in a season-best time of 8.19. Schneider earned fifth-place points with another season-best time of 2:48.56 and posted a height of 4.40m/14-5¼.
“Kurt Schneider’s performance was outstanding,” said Drenth. “He’s one of the top multi-event people in the country.”
Breaking his second MSU record in the conference meet, redshirt sophomore Caleb Rhynard clocked a career-best time of 13:53.18 in the 5,000-meter run to score fifth-place points for the Spartans. It marked the fastest time for a Spartan since 1998. In the women’s race, redshirt junior Julia Otwell finished seventh overall to score points for the Spartans as she posted a career-best time of 16:27.34.
“Caleb Rhynard was unbelievable,” said Drenth. “To break two school records and to run that well under those circumstances is just fantastic.”
In the weight throw, redshirt junior Antonio James finished fourth overall with a mark of 22.06m/ 70-4½ to earn points for MSU. Scoring fourth-place points for the Spartans in the 60-meter dash, junior Devantré Whitelow clocked a time of 6.74 in the finals.
Junior Jarred Gambrell scored points for the Spartans in the triple jump, hitting a mark of 15.37m/ 50-¼ to place sixth overall.
Franklin closed out a successful conference meet by anchoring the 4×400-medley relay and helping the team of juniors Jelissa Westney, Alicia Evans and Jaelynn Pryor to a sixth-place finish. The Spartan women clocked a time of 3:37.78 to score valuable points for MSU.
“Tori (Franklin) was fantastic today,” Drenth said. “She didn’t take her shoes off. It was amazing. She’s in the middle of the triple jump competition and she has to go run 200-meters and she runs a personal best. That’s hard to do, but it’s happening because she’s choosing to be a leader and she’s choosing to be fully engaged. She came back and ran probably the fastest split I’ve seen since I’ve been here in the mile relay. She ran 52 in her mile split. What a statement. She’s very gifted.”
Receiving First-Team All-Big Ten honors on the women’s side was Tori Franklin and Leah O’Connor, while Erin Billette, Alicia Evans and Aubrey Wilberdig were named to the All-Big Ten second team.
Antonio James earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors on the men’s side, while Tim Ehrhardt received Second-Team All-Big Ten recognition.
“We have some people in both genders that are nationally-level people, but the momentum has to sustain itself with the group of athletes that competed this weekend,” said Drenth. “It’s their responsibility. We talked this weekend in our meetings about how momentum and purpose have to be athlete-driven. If it’s coach-driven, it’s not theirs. They’ve got to own it, they’ve got to drive it, they’ve got to be the people that demand things from each other, they’ve got to have expectations of each other and of themselves and it’s got to be behavioral and consistent. I think if this core group of people embraces that, we’ll be better in the spring and the program will grow. That’s all we can ask them to do.”
The Spartans will have a weekend off before members of the team travel to Albuquerque, N.M. for the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships on Friday, March 14 and Saturday, March 15.