SIX-PEAT: No. 3 Women track claims 6th straight UAA title, sets a charge on a national crown

| Managing Sports Editor

The No. 3 WashU women’s track team pose with its conference title at the UAA Championship this past weekend.(Photo from the Athletic Department)

In one the most competitive and hectic afternoons of her collegiate track career, senior Aoife Dunne had approximately 50 minutes to prepare for the 800-meter race. This was right after finishing up second place in the 1500-meter below junior Annika Urban of Emory University.

“[It was] not a substantial amount of time,” Dunne said. “So it really was just about getting out there and competing to the best of my abilities.”

And compete she did. In a finals conference championship race that saw some of the closest finishes of the afternoon, the senior from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania put it all on the track for the Bears to win the race with a time of 2:11.72. In claiming the UAA Conference 800M crown, Dunne brought her team closer to victory by scoring 10 points, alongside the eight points that she collected in the 1500M against Urban — whom she beat in this race after she finished second place. 

In running two races in the span of 50 minutes, Dunne noted that she was “very proud to have accomplished that double.”

Over the weekend, the No. 3 Washington University women’s track and field team won the 2023 University Athletic Association (UAA) Outdoor Championship on Sunday afternoon with 253.50 points. The University of Chicago finished second place at 228.50 points and Emory University finished with 135.50. The title was the Bears’ sixth-consecutive title. With all-around performances, not even rain, hail, or snow could keep them away from victory.

The Bears’ historic sixth UAA title in six years was led by the likes of sophomore sprinter Lauren Gay who took home the 200M title; winning it with a time of 25.30. Gay also played a pivotal role in the WashU 4x100M team of senior Mycah Clay, sophomore Lauren Gay, first-year Jasmine Wright, and sophomore Nicole Stewart that took home the relay crown. She anchored the team to a winning time of 46.99 which ranks fifth nationally. 

“We have an extremely talented group of girls this year, so making the conference lineup is difficult in itself,” Clay wrote to Student Life, reflecting on the Bears 4x100M win. “I had no expectations of time because the weather was the most tumultuous it’s been all year, but I knew that if we could get our handoffs, we would be more than fine. As the first leg, I get the privilege to watch the race unfold, so it was really exciting to be able to see my teammates race down the track.”

Other notable performers include senior Emily Konkus, who finished third with a time of 4:33.34 in the 1500M behind Dunne and came second in the 5000M with a time of 17:01.49. The All-American sophomore Emma Kelley took care of business, as she saw herself take home the 400M with a time of 56.11, ahead of teammate senior Sophie Fox who finished the race with a time of 57.73.

“I was proud of our athletes,” head coach Jeff Stiles said. “We had a lot of outstanding performances. [The University of] Chicago was obviously a great test and we’re fortunate we perform exceptionally. Some people were disappointed, but overall I was really really good when you add it all up.”

As conference championships races always are, the meet was tactical for Stiles from the beginning. Kelley is known nationally as an 800M specialist. While she has run the 400M race in the past and done exceptionally well in it, Stiles felt the need of putting her in the 400M as opposed to her usual race of 800M as a means of splitting up points.

“Her main event is the 800M, [but] she’s exceptional in both,” Stiles said. “But it was always how do we split the most points. We knew she could win the 400M, [so] we’re kind of stealing points from ourselves…if we put everyone in the 800M. If we don’t move them over, we don’t score points. So it was a strategic move, based on how we score the most points.”

For Kelley, the decision to put her in the 400M didn’t change her outlook on the meet as she understood the assignment at hand.

“I approached running the 400 at the conference meet just as I would any other meet,” Kelley said. “My goal was to get out fast and make up the stagger as quickly as I could, then maintain that speed throughout the second half of the race and to the finish. Although the 800M is my main event, it makes a lot of sense for me to be running the 400M at a conference in order to maximize team points across all events, so I am happy to do it for the team.”

As a result of that decision, the Bears ended up having Dunne run the 800M alongside junior Alessia Sarrussi — which she won — while Kelley raced in the 400M, alongside Fox. 

“It feels really good to be crowned UAA conference champion,” Dunne said. “I honestly wasn’t super sure going into the race if I would have won, but I knew that the competition between us and Chicago would be really tight and so getting the win would definitely have been a very important move and it was a really stacked field.”

In winning the UAA championship, the Bears cemented themselves as one of the best teams in NCAA DIII women’s outdoor track. Coming off an indoor season in which they finished second place at nationals, the Bears rank third in the country. While all indications would point to a possible national title charge on the way, Dunne notes that winning the UAA is great, but the team is not looking to get ahead of itself.

“From a team perspective, claiming the UAA title really does mean a lot to us as it says a lot about our current fitness,” the senior said. “[But] while I think it’s really amazing that we have won conference, I think it can be very easy to get ahead of ourselves. I think obviously, a national title is something that we’re always working for. We usually don’t talk about it too much until the start of that cut. Obviously, anything can happen, but I.. do think that this really kind of sets us as a force to be reckoned with.”

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