Big 12s on Tap for Wildcats in Ames

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- K-State Track and Field travels to Ames, Iowa, this weekend for the 2015 Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Held at the Cyclone Sports Complex from May 15-17, the Wildcats will look to improve upon last season's finishes at the outdoor championships that saw the men and women place fifth and sixth, respectively, in Lubbock, Texas.

Hosted by Iowa State for the first time since the 1995 Big Eight Championships, the conference championships are expected to open Friday, May 15, with the men's decathlon at 11 a.m. and continue into Sunday, May 17, with event finals on the track and multiple field events. Further information, such as a full meet schedule and heat sheets, can be found by visiting the Championship Central page at www.Big12Sports.com, while K-State updates will be provided via Twitter at @kstate_gameday under #KStateTF.

Head coach Cliff Rovelto said this weekend's competition for the women offers plenty of similarities from Big 12 Indoors this past February, where the women finished second behind only Texas. Though there are key departures such as Erica Twiss and the unavailability of some scorers from indoors, Rovelto expects the Wildcats to be competitive.

"I think from a team standpoint there's a lot of similarities between indoors and outdoors in terms of where our strengths and weaknesses are," Rovelto said. "The difference is we don't have athletes like an Erica Twiss or Janee' Kassanavoid available, we don't have some athletes competing in multiple events, so there are some people that aren't in the mix that were indoors. But if you look at any event, the hurdles, sprints, you're replacing basically the 600-yard run indoors with the intermediates outdoors for our athletes at least, so in aspects like that it's pretty similar. I think the event areas we performed well in indoors, we expect to perform well in outdoors."

As for the men's squad, who have competed shorthanded for much of both the indoor and outdoor campaigns, Rovelto said the focus will be on continued improvement from a group with plenty of talent in several event areas.

"Historically for both our teams, particularly the men, the bigger and more elite the meet, the better we tend to perform because we typically have guys in events that are NCAA-caliber guys, whether it's the combined event or high jump and so on," Rovelto said. "Though this isn't a very large team and we won't have as many opportunities to score as in year's past, the reality is that the guys that will be competing have done a nice job. Whether you're talking about a Kain Ellis in the 800-meter, or [Christopher Campbell], or the high jump group -- [Ifeanyichukwu Otuonye] has had a nice outdoor season too -- there are a lot of guys that have put together some good performances. So our focus is on the people here. There are a lot of people improving consistently."

For a conference as stocked with talent as the Big 12 has been all outdoor season, competition on both the men's and women's side is expected to be tight. The women's side in particular host six programs in the USTFCCCA top-25, including K-State at No. 11, which slots the conference with the second-most top-25 programs in the country behind only the SEC.

"Clearly Texas (No. 5) looks to have a significant advantage on paper, but I think schools like Baylor (No. 12), KU (No. 22) , Tech (No. 10) on paper are all tough opponents. There's a couple schools that just have looked better outdoors than they did indoors," Rovelto said. "When I looked at the meet a week or so ago, before looking at heat sheets and entries, I had it where there was 10 points between second and sixth. I think, for one that says the conference is certainly getting a little more balance to it and, given that a lot of those teams are pretty solid teams, you have four or five schools that have really solid women's programs."

Added Rovelto on the overall quality of competition in the conference, "When the Big 12 went to 10 schools and, particularly, when you looked at the schools we had lost, it certainly appeared to many that the quality of the meet would deteriorate a little bit. What we saw that first year in the depth or quality was a little bit of a difference, but everything has evolved to the point now that where in most of the events, and in terms of what it takes to score, it is as good as it has ever been."

What to Watch For --

• The women enter this weekend with several athletes worth keeping an eye on including A'Keyla Mitchell and Akela Jones. After experiencing wildly successful indoor campaigns that included a combined five All-American honors, as well as multiple year-end awards, the duo looks primed to repeat that postseason success outdoors starting in Ames. For Mitchell, the freshman currently holds top-eight conference marks in four events including the 100-meter (4th), 200-meter (2nd) and as part of the 4x400 (2nd). Mitchell's first taste of conference action this past February resulted in her racking up 12 points across three events for the Wildcats.

Jones, meanwhile, earned high-point scoring honors at this season's indoor championships -- the first Wildcat to accomplish the feat since Olympian Austra Skujyte in 2002. She currently holds top-three conference marks in the 100-meter hurdles (3rd), high jump (3rd) and long jump (2nd).

• Headlining a solid women's throws group will be Sara Savatovic, who will look to snag her third-straight hammer throw title. The sophomore from Crvenka, Serbia, has dominated this season, breaking the school record in the event and currently holds the top mark in the conference at 66.40m/217-10. Joining Savatovic is another conference-leading Wildcat in Dani Winters, whose mark of 17.21m/56-05.75 in the shot put is both tops in the Big 12 and second-best in school history. Rounding out the group are potential scorers in the javelin in Danie Plank and Haley Pitko, who rank fourth and eighth, respectively, in the conference.

• Lastly, K-State brings a stocked high jump group to this weekend's festivities. Tallying a gaudy 27.50 points in the event at the conference level indoors, the women will look to replicate or better that performance. Alyx Treasure, Akela Jones, and Kim Williamson, this season's indoor champion, all rank within the conference top-four, while Rhizlane Siba and Rachel Proteau slot just inside the top-15. Most notable, each of the five Wildcat high jumpers have yet to jump at a PR-level this season, including Proteau, who was last season's third-place finisher in the event outdoors.

The men's side nearly matched their counterparts at this season's Big 12 Indoors, placing four in the event top-eight. They look in good shape to register a repeat performance outdoors, as Christoff Bryan and Nate Gipson rank second and fourth, respectively, in the Big 12, while Zack Riley is sixth.

Last Time Out...

Seven Wildcats closed out the regular season for K-State at the Nebraska Invitational this past Saturday, May 9, notching a combined five top-five finishes. Among the notable performances were Megan Vanderpool in the pole vault and Alyssa Kelly in the 100m and long jump. Vanderpool, a freshman from Lenexa, Kansas, cleared 3.81m/12-06 in the event, besting her previous season-high by nearly a foot en route to finishing ninth-overall. Not only a season-best for Vanderpool, the latest effort moved her to No. 6 in school history. Kelly, meanwhile, set a season-best in both the 100m (12.66) and long jump (5.80m/19-00.50). Her performance in the latter event was particularly notable, as the junior Wildcat registered her best mark since leaping a PR 5.83m/19-01.50 at the Ward Haylett Invitational in 2014.  

Rankings N'at
(Please Note: Only marks in the Top-50 DI, Top-50 DI West and Top-20 Big 12 are displayed according to TFRRS -- converted marks are not used)

Men

AthleteEventMarkDivision IDI WestBig 12
Terrell Smith100M10.30w30th
18th7th
Terrell Smith200M20.7733rd19th5th
Christoff BryanHigh Jump2.24m/7-04.254th3rd2nd
Nate GipsonHigh Jump2.23m/7-03.757th6th4th
Zack RileyHigh Jump2.15m/7-00.5026th18th6th
Ifeanyichukwu OtuonyeLong Jump7.98m/26-02.253rd3rd1st


Women

AthleteEventMarkDivision IDI WestBig 12
A'Keyla Mitchell100M11.4019th11th4th
A'Keyla Mitchell200M22.96w6th5th2nd
A'Keyla Mitchell400M53.3440th
18th7th
Sonia Gaskin800M2:05.7427th
13th5th
Akela Jones100H13.30w28th12th5th

4x4003:35.1222nd8th2nd
Alyx TreasureHigh Jump1.84m/6-00.5011th5th2nd
Akela JonesHigh Jump1.83m/6-0017th7th3rd
Kim WilliamsonHigh Jump1.81m/5-11.2524th9th4th
Akela JonesLong Jump6.33m/20-09.2513th3rd2nd
Dani WintersShot Put17.21m/56-05.757th4th1st
Sara SavatovicHammer Throw66.40m/217-104th2nd1st
Danie PlankJavelin49.70m/163-0121st10th4th
Akela JonesHeptathlon60492nd1st1st


What's Next?

The Wildcats have a week off before heading to Austin, Texas for the NCAA West Regionals on May 28-30. Held at the Longhorns' Mike A. Myers Stadium, the top-48 athletes from each event in the Division I West Region will compete for a chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, later this June.