Victories highlight final day at Big Ten championships
MADISON, Wis. — Senior Joe Kovacs (Nazareth, Pa.), junior Casimir Loxsom (New Haven, Conn.) and sophomore Brady Gehret (Altoona, Pa.) claimed individual titles, while the quartet of Aaron Nadolsky (Altoona, Pa.), Loxsom, Gehret, and Brandon Bennett-Green (Elkins Park, Pa.) took top honors in the 4×400-meter relay to wrap up a stellar weekend of action, Sunday at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships at McClimon Track.
Kovacs claimed gold-medal honors in one of the most hotly contested shot put competitions of the outdoor season, posting a career-best and school-record toss of 68-5 (20.85) — the farthest winning performance since 1982. Not only was Kovacs’ mark a school record, but it makes him the eighth-ranked individual in the world this year, and is the best performance in the NCAA by nearly three feet. With Nebraska’s Luke Pinkelman coming out of the gate with 65-08.25 (20.02), Kovacs remained cool under pressure, launching three-straight efforts of 20-meters or better to earn his first-career outdoor crown.
Kovacs’ victory also is the third-straight for the Nittany Lions in the event, following up on victories by former teammate Blake Eaton in 2010 and 2011. Teammate Logan Caldwell (Ebensburg, Pa.) also had a career-best afternoon, going 61-11.75 (18.89) for fourth place. The senior now ranks fifth in the Penn State record books.
Just as Kovacs’ big throw hit the ground, the Nittany Lions got things rolling on the track, with Gehret clocking a career-best 45.22 — the fourth-fastest performance in the NCAA this year — to win the men’s 400-meters. Also turning in a personal record was Bennett-Green, who posted an effort of 45.94 to pick up a bronze-medal finish. The Nittany Lion tandem now rank second and third in school history in the event, with Gehret coming up just shy of Mike Sands’ long-standing 45.20 from 1975. Gehret also would come back to turn in a runner-up finish in the 200-meters in a PR 20.62 to cap off an outstanding weekend individually.
Loxsom would throw in surge with just over a half lap remaining in the 800-meters, sprinting away from the field to clinch his third-straight Big Ten outdoor title in the event. Loxsom’s season-best effort of 1:46.12 — a new McClimon facility record — also is a new Big Ten meet record, bettering the 1:46.33 set by Illinois’ Marko Koers in 1992. The mark also is third-best among NCAA competitors this spring.
Nittany Lions Nadolsky, Loxsom, Gehret and Bennett-Green wrapped up competition with a bang, taking the program’s first-ever Big Ten title in the 4×400-meter relay, thanks to a winning time of 3:04.78, which also matches the Penn State record set at Penn Relays two weeks ago. Historically speaking, the effort was the fastest winning time since 1994, and just off the Big Ten meet record 3:04.45, set by Indiana in 1985. The Nittany Lions also tied the McClimon Track record in the effort, matching Ohio State’s 3:04.78 from 1994.
Also enjoying a stellar weekend in the sprints was sophomore Kirsten Nieuwendam (Parimaribo, Suriname), who went 23.52 to place third in the 200, and also turned in an eight-place effort in the 100-meters. Senior Ijeoma Iheoma (Holland, Pa.) was another Nittany Lion scorer in the sprints, running 53.34 – the second-fastest effort of her career – to place fifth in the 400.
Iheoma and Nieuwendam covered the third and fourth carries on the Nittany Lions’ second-place 4×400-meter relay, along with teammates Doris Anyanwu (Beltsville, Md.) and Dynasty McGee (Ypsilanti, Mich.). The foursome, which now ranks as the 10th-fastest team nationally, ran a season-best 3:33.20 for runner-up honors. The same quartet would also in a sixth-place finish in the 4×100-meter relay, crossing in 46.17.
Anyanwu also turned in a scoring performance individually, taking fifth in the 400-meter hurdles, thanks to a personal record 58.93, her second career-best in as many days.
The Nittany Lions got a pair of medal stand efforts in the middle-distance events, including third-place standings from sophomore Rebekka Simko (Mentor, Ohio) in the 800-meters, and freshman Robby Creese (Mount Airy, Md.) in the 1500-meters. Simko, who scored an eighth-place finish in the 1500, sprinted down the homestretch to take third in the 800, clocking 2:06.96, just three tenths of a second off Nebraska’s Ashley Miller for the win. Creese also turned on an impressive kick to earn bronze-medal honors, finishing in a career-best 3:42.87, which also ranks as the 10th-fastest in school history.
Senior Kara Millhouse (Boiling Springs, Pa.), who won the 10,000-meters on Friday evening, and junior Natalie Bower (Pleasant Unity, Pa.) added to the Nittany Lion total in the 5,000-meters, placing fourth and eighth, respectively. Millhouse clocked 16:34.35 in a gutsy effort, while Bower went 16:45.01, coming off a scoring finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Saturday.
In the field, Tanaya Lloyd (Philadelphia, Pa.) popped a personal record 42-03.50 (12.89) to place fourth in the women’s triple jump, which moves her to fourth on the all-time Penn State top 10. Meanwhile, sophomore Melissa Kurzdorfer (Lancaster, N.Y.), who took runner-up honors in the hammer on Friday, placed seventh in the discus, thanks to a season-best toss of 165-9 (50.53). Also scoring in the throws was junior Eli Skinner (Jersey Shore, Pa.). Skinner posted a toss of 197-4 (60.14) to place fifth in the javelin.
The Lions got a pair of eighth-place finishes in the vertical jumps, with Erika Morgan (Chesapeake, Va.) taking eighth in the high jump at 5-8.50 (1.74), and Jocelyn Witmer (Lancaster, Pa.) clearing 12-08.75 (3.88) to add another point to the Nittany Lion haul.
The Nittany Lions will continue their postseason drive in the coming weeks, traveling to the NCAA Eastern Preliminary Round at the University of North Florida, May 24-26.
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