Despite the bleak weather conditions across the Midwest last weekend, Missouri track and field managed to shine at the 97th annual Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa.
Thousands of participants took part in the three-day, 112-event extravaganza; but solid performances, including two relay victories, made the Tigers stand out.
Both victories belong to the men’s middle distance squad, who dominated 12 other collegiate teams in the 4x800-meter and distance medley relays. Senior Neville Miller, and juniors Jimmie Jones and Marcus Mayes were influential in both victories.
Senior Matt Noonan, who broke the tape in the final leg of the distance medley, attributed the win to the large lead his teammates created and called it the greatest moment of his running career.
“I knew our first three legs of the relay were just as good as anybody,” Noonan said. “I was the weak link. For the first two laps or so I was just thinking, don’t lose this lead. I was a bit fearful, but then I could see on the jumbo-tron that no one was gaining on me. With two laps to go, barring some kind of accident, I was sure we would win.”
The Tigers’ 9-minute, 41.82-second finish was 6 seconds ahead of second-place Kansas State.
Going into the relays, the Tigers’ expectations were high. Noonan said the experience that comes with being upper-classmen helped the relay teams fulfill their goals.
“Being juniors and seniors, all of us older guys were expected to do well,” Noonan said. “Had we been freshmen or sophomores with that kind of potential, it might not have been the same.”
For Miller, the last chance at a Drake Relay victory was motivation enough.
“I was thinking about the times I had messed up by going out too fast ... so it was nice to go up there expected to do well, and actually do well,” he said.
However, Miller said it was his teammates cheering from the stands that really brought out the victory.
“The crowd was pretty crazy,” he said. “They were loud, but I could hear the M-I-Z chant through it. That was the team, they know that’s my favorite, and it gave me the extra boost that I needed.”
The Tigers’ middle-distance runners usually don’t run relays, so the meet provided a rare opportunity to compete as one.
“I love relays because you have the team to push you and share the burden, but then it is also amazing to share that joy,” Noonan said.
Miller said the return to Columbia was filled with nothing but joy.
“We had a great time on the bus ride back, there was plenty of energy,” he said.
However, with the start of a new week, reality quickly set in.
At Monday’s pre-practice team meeting, men’s distance coach Jared Wilmes told his runners, ”We haven’t run that fast in, I don’t know, ever. That was great.”
He then proceeded to send them out on a relatively short 8-mile run, the reward in the eye of the beholder.
Other Missouri athletes also had reason to celebrate.
In the final leg of the women’s 4x1600-meter relay, senior Amanda Bales erased a three-second deficit to catch up to Emily Brown of Minnesota. Although she made a strong move on the final backstretch, Bales was passed in the last 100 meters. Her 4:42.1 split helped the Tigers finish second in a school-record 19:12.27.
In the hammer throw, where wet weather turned the throwing ring into a wading pool of sorts, sophomore Jason Morris earned second at 218 feet, 11 inches, beating his own school record by 6 feet and putting him among the top 15 in the nation. However, he said he looks forward to doing better.
“I want to throw over 230 feet,” he said. “If I can do that as a sophomore, that’s pretty unbelievable.”
Morris’ throw was above the ‘A’ standard qualification for the USA Championships, earning him an automatic bid to Indianapolis in June.
Tiger post-collegian Christian Cantwell had an outstanding meet, with a 72-6 1/4 mark in the shot put that broke the 31-year-old meet record. Cantwell was named the Drake Relays’ Outstanding Performer for bringing the crowd to a standing ovation on a throw that is credited as the best in the world so far this year. Cantwell’s 70-3 3/4 throw at the Kansas Relays on April 23 had been the world-leading mark.
The Tigers compete in the Big 12 Conference Outdoor Championships beginning May 12 in Waco, Texas.