Women’s track and field finishes as runners-up at indoor nationals, Emma Kelley sets NCAA record

| Junior Sports Editor

WashU’s women’s track & field hoists their national runners-up trophy. (Courtesy of WashU Athletics)

On March 8, the first night of the NCAA Division III indoor track and field national championships, Washington University senior Emma Kelley cruised into second place in the 800 meter run prelims, running a time of 2:09.89. Less than 24 hours later, she took to the track again for the finals. This time, the St. Louis native ran a 2:04.13, breaking the previous Division III record of 2:05.39 and earning her third national title in the event.

Led by Kelley’s performance, the Washington University women’s track and field team was crowned national runners-up for the second year in a row. The Bears scored 49 points, two fewer than Loras College’s 51 points. Across the two-day, 17-event meet, the team notched 12 All-American finishes across seven individual events and two relays: the distance medley relay (DMR) and the 4×400 meter relay.

The Bears, who were projected to finish national runners-up based on previous performances, were also the only team to outperform their projected points finishes in every event the squad scored in, according to head coach Jeff Stiles. In the meet, the top eight finishers in each event receive points, which are then combined to calculate team scores.

“I believe we’re the only team in the meet to outscore what we were supposed to in every event, we scored it,” he said. “We matched or surpassed our projected points for every event we scored in, so that tells you right there that we had an amazing meet.”

Despite the meet’s two-day format, the race for the national championship would come down to the final event, the 4×400 meter relay. The Bears, who entered the second day in sixth place, climbed their way into second going into the last event, seven points behind the Loras College Duhawks, who won the American Rivers Conference Championship and were projected to win the meet.

WashU won their heat of the 4×400 meter relay posting a time of 3:46.44, but finished second overall in the race behind the University of Rochester, who posted a time of 3:45.21. While Loras finished sixth in the event, they earned enough points to eke out the team victory and win the meet by a margin of just two points.

Kelley, who won the 800 meter at last year’s meet, continued her dominant form following the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship, where she set a conference record. She competed in the 800 meter run, DMR, and 4×400 meter relay. Strong performances by Kelley and her teammates in these races contributed 21 points to the Bears’ total of 49.

Emma Kelley set a national record in the 800m by almost a whole second. (Courtesy of WashU Athletics)

The DMR, which placed second at the 2023 NCAA Championship and first at the 2024 UAA Championship, placed sixth. The team of sophomore Katie Rector, graduate student Danielle Schultz, Kelley, and senior Alexandra Blake ran a time of 11:38.39, nearly a second faster than their time at the UAA Championship.

After a fifth-place finish in prelims with a time of 3:50.71, the 4×400 meter team of sophomore Kylie Spytek, junior Nicole Stewart, Schultz, and Kelley dropped over four seconds, running a finals time of 3:46.44 to finish second.

Alongside Kelley, senior Ally Sarussi notched All-American status in the 800 meter with a personal best time of 2:10.35 en route to a fourth-place finish.

Earlier on Saturday afternoon, the Bears also found success in the 60-meter dash with sophomore Jasmine Wright and first-year Maya Davis placing sixth and seventh respectively, collectively adding five points to the Bears tally.

In the field events, sophomore Jenae Bothe, junior Yasmin Ruff, and senior Ebun Opata all earned All-American honors.

Ruff, who won the pole vault at the UAA Championship, placed second in Virginia Beach, jumping 3.87 meters. 

Opata, who was also victorious in the UAA, placed third in the triple jump with a jump of 12.31 meters. Her third-place finish in her signature event is her second podium finish on the national scale, finishing second at last year’s meet.

“Even though I’ve gotten a top three finish before, it’s still always just a surreal feeling,” Opata said. “Just knowing that I’m top three in the nation in DIII in triple jump, especially when I look at the distance that I’ve been jumping to get to my top three finishes, it doesn’t even compare to what I was jumping in high school. So, my high school self would be so surprised that I’ve been able to place top three at nationals more than once.”

In the shot put, Bothe’s penultimate throw of 13.97 meters propelled the sophomore into sixth place and All-American honors.

While the slim loss to Loras was difficult, Stiles is incredibly proud of the team’s performance which he credits to years of consistent hard work.

“You really need someone who’s willing to grind for years, in order to grind for years,” Stiles said. “You gotta love it, love your teammates, love the sports. And [for] this group that was all very true. So, it was a privilege for coaches to be along the ride with the student-athletes.”

Stiles also noted the contributions the senior class made to the team throughout their four years, which began with a canceled season due to COVID-19 and finished with setting multiple school records and posting strong performances at the UAA and NCAA Championships.

“We’re so proud of this group and the seniors in particular,” he said. “These seniors are leaving an indelible mark. It’s a fun word. I think that that word really strikes a chord with the impact that they’ve had. Up and down the line this senior class has been and continues to be outstanding.”

Looking forward, the Bears, who finished third in outdoor nationals last season, will start their outdoor season with the WashU Triangular, a home meet on March 23. According to Opata, the second-place finish at indoor nationals serves as inspiration as the Bears gear up for outdoor nationals in late May. 

“I was talking to another senior on the team at nationals and we were both just discussing how although it stung that we missed winning indoor season this time, we still have outdoor season, we still have so much to offer and we’re just so motivated to give our all. I feel like [our team] hasn’t been as strong as it is right now while I’ve been on the team. Although I’m gonna be here next year for a fifth year, my senior class and how strong we are and how motivated we are just really helps me think about how we could win outdoor nationals.”

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