Arizona’s track and field team traded flawless indoor conditions for frigid winds at Roy P. Drachman Stadium on Friday. The transition to the outdoor season was greeted by overcast skies, but they didn’t prevent UA’s athletes from owning the podium.
Grayson Fleming got things rolling for the Wildcats on the first day of the Willie Williams Classic, winning the men’s hammer throw in dominant fashion. Fleming, a redshirt senior, cruised to victory behind a monster toss of 212 feet, 3 inches. Arizona field athletes Jordan Geist and Cody Dalton finished in third and sixth place, respectively.
Geist set a personal best in the event, hurling the ball and chain 202-2½ on his final attempt.
Freshman thrower Jaisen Brown made the most of his first appearance for the Wildcats this spring by advancing to the finals and finishing in the top 10.
In the women’s hammer throw, Arizona’s lone competitor Amarissa Hawker finished in third, improving her personal best by nearly 12 feet. Hawker, a senior, also placed in the top-five in the women’s shot put, finishing just 2½ inches shy of a new personal best.
The Wildcats didn’t stop there — they had to make their presence known on the track, too.
Standout freshman Neysia Howard defended her top time in the women’s 200 meters, clocking in at 24.20 seconds to win the event. She also placed second in the long jump, as teammate Tiana Poirier-Shelton finished in first with a 19-6¾ leap. Chandra Hawthorne came in third with a personal best of 18-4¼.
Moments after Howard’s strong finish on the track, fellow Tucson native Justice Summerset encouraged the crowd to clap their hands and provide some extra motivation before launching himself over the high jump bar.
Summerset managed to clear 7-1½ with ease, securing another spot atop the podium for Arizona.
Maj Williams stole the show on the men’s side of the 200. The sophomore sensation sizzled by the competition in 20.94 seconds, setting the fastest national outdoor mark in the 200 so far this season. Of course, the outdoor season is only a few weeks old.
“The start is the weakest part of my race, so it was nice to nail that today,” Williams said. “I felt pretty relaxed at the finish line, which means I’ve got plenty left in the tank.”
Another sophomore sprinter, Trevor Volpe, earned sixth place in his 200 meters heat with a time of 21.57 seconds.
“Getting up to the line, I told myself I’m going to win the race — and that’s what happened,” Volpe said. “That finish was a little iffy, but it felt good to open up with a PR.”
A pair of underclassmen, Kayla Young and Keelah Barger, paced the women’s 5,000 meters. Young extended her lead with eight laps to go, eventually crossing the finish line in 17:29.09 well ahead of the pack.
Barger summoned a hard kick on the final lap to make up some ground and finish in second.
In the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, senior Bailey Roth got off to a lightning quick start. Roth may have used too much juice at the beginning of the race, but a strong effort on the final lap solidified a fifth-place finish for the 2017 Pac-12 champ.
Distance runners Collin Dylla and Timothy Kibet placed sixth and eighth, respectively, in fast 1,500-meter heat that saw the leader finish in 3:51.28.
A star-studded 5,000-meter race rounded out a brilliant start to Arizona’s 2019 outdoor campaign. Freshman Shem Kemboi finished eighth.
The Wildcats will return to action for part two of the Willie Williams Classic on Saturday at 10 a.m., with former NCAA First-Team All-American Maksims Sincukovs leading the charge.