ASU coach Greg Kraft had high expectations for his team going into the Texas A&M Mondo Challenge on Jan. 25 and 26.
The meet would provide for the ASU track and field program’s first true test in the indoor events and the Sun Devils wasted no time putting a fork in the competition.
Athletes on both the women and men’s teams made a name for ASU, staking their claim in several events.
The favorite in the pentathlon, ASU senior Keia Pinnick, ran away with a 100-point victory on Friday.
“It was a big accomplishment,” Pinnick said. “(It’s) a score that will hold up until nationals. It was pretty nice.”
The performance outdid her previous personal record. Her new record remains ASU’s second-best score in track and field history. Pinnick is now ranked No. 2 in the country for the pentathlon.
On Saturday, the Sun Devil dominance continued to show, as junior pole-vaulter Shaylah Simpson won the event in College Station, Tex.
“It’s always a great feeling when your practices positively transfer into your meet performance,” Simpson said. “So seeing my hard work pay off in Texas against big schools was a nice confidence booster.”
Simpson returned this season after suffering an injury last season and has since been putting in the extra hours to get back to 100 percent.
Sophomore distance runner Shelby Houlihan added to the women’s success with a first-place finish in the 800-meter. Her time of 2:06:27 was No. 2 all-time in ASU indoor history and qualified as the fourth best performance in the nation so far.
“I was kind of nervous going into it because I wasn’t sure where my fitness level was at,” Houlihan said. “But once the gun went off, I felt great.”
Houlihan is one of many track and field athletes that make the transition from cross-country in the fall to the track in the spring. She said everything is fairly similar and no major adjustments were necessary.
“Training is not really that different,” Houlihan said. “I’m still running about the same mileage as I was during cross country, which is helping a lot aerobically in track.”
Kraft praised Houlihan for her performance and had no doubt she would have a successful weekend.
The women clearly made a statement in Texas that, regardless of where the nation ranks them, they’re going to make a push for a stellar season.
“I think we are ready to learn more and put in more work so that we can show that we are contenders,” Pinnick said.
Simpson feels the same way and says the women are in it for one goal.
“We are determined,” Simpson said. “We are working hard to make improvements in the areas necessary to get us to the National Championship.”
Kraft was pleased to say the least with the performance from his women’s team as a whole.
“The women’s team made a positive step forward,” Kraft said. “If we keep winning, performances will happen.”
Men’s Team Capitalizes
The No. 4 men’s team came out with something to prove at Texas A&M and made sure to do so.
Houlihan’s cross-country teammate, senior distance runner Nick Happe, finished third overall in the men’s mile event.
Redshirt junior sprinter Ryan Milus walked away with a second consecutive victory in the 60-meter competition. He said he is trying to keep focused on what’s ahead of him, regardless of his No. 2 pre-ranking coming into the meet.
“I think it’s a good start to the season to go 2-0,” Milus said. “I try to take it one meet at a time and try to win each race. I have personal goals of getting to the national meet again and getting into the finals.”
Redshirt senior thrower and returning national champion Jordan Clarke sat the weekend out. His fellow redshirt senior teammate, Joe Riccio, stepped up with a second place throw.
Clarke was out with a minor hand injury, but Kraft says nothing to worry about.
“It’s not unusual,” Kraft said. “It happens once a year. He just hyper-extended a few fingers in practice.”
Kraft expects Clarke to be back at practice for their next meet this week without a problem and the decision to sit him was just precautionary.
Overall, the weekend proved beneficial to the Sun Devils’ progression through the rest of the season, and Kraft likes what he sees so far.
“We learned a lot about ourselves,” Kraft said. “I can’t overstate how important a meet like that was experience-wise. In two weeks, we should be better for it.”
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