Tech track and field builds 10-point lead at OVC Championships behind Roberts, Sanga, Smith

Tech track and field builds 10-point lead at OVC Championships behind Roberts, Sanga, Smith

By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After the first day of action at the Ohio Valley Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships, it would appear that the defending champion Tennessee Tech track and field team arrived at the Birmingham CrossPlex on a mission: to add another piece of hardware to the trophy case.

Through just five scored events on Wednesday, the Golden Eagles have totaled 41 points, and hold a 10-point lead on Southeast Missouri, who currently occupies the No. 2 spot.

Again, with just five events completed, Tech has already racked up three gold medals and one silver medal.

"I'm very happy with the advantage we've built after Day 1," said head coach Wayne Angel. "There's still a long way to go, and we'll have to step up our game again to hold off the challengers, but I'm pleased with where we're at right now."

Purity Sanga showed why she was the right choice for the OVC's Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, showcasing incredible stamina to take an individual victory in the 5,000 meters, and another as part of Tech's distance medley relay team.

Sanga lined up for the 5,000 at 7:50 p.m., and completed the race in 16-minutes, 55.55-seconds to claim the title out of 21 participants, and score 10 big points for TTU. Sanga was the only competitor to finish in under 17 minutes, coming in roughly six-and-a-half seconds ahead of the runner-up, Kortney Schardt of Belmont.

It marks the first career OVC title in the indoor 5,000 meters for the Kapsabet, Kenya native, who finished fourth in 2018.

Then, just 20 minutes after her taxing 5K effort, Sanga took the line again as part of Tech's distance medley relay team, and carried the Golden Eagles home to another gold medal as the anchor leg.

Joined by a pair of freshmen, Janet Kwambai and Alexa Brugere, along with senior D'Airrien Jackson, the foursome brought the baton over the finish line in 11:56.62, which was good enough for another 10 tallies toward the Golden Eagle team score.

"Purity's effort was spectacular today," Angel said. "To do what she did in the 5,000, and then turn around and run the anchor leg of our DMR team was remarkable."

"I'd be remised if I didn't commend Janet, Alexa and D'Airrien as well. That was the first time we had run the DMR in a competitive setting this year. What a thrill to see them show up to a championship meet with that kind of effort."

While those two events acted as a dynamic nightcap for the Golden Eagles, Khemani Roberts and Raven Smith set the tone early in the day.

Roberts won the high jump, springing 1.73 meters (5 feet, 8 inches) to reign supreme over the 18-member field. Like Sanga, Roberts' victory marks her first OVC indoor high jump title, and made good on her No. 1 seed mark entering the competition.

The competition, however, was fierce, as Roberts edged Briana Caudle of Jacksonville State and Aubrey Main of Murray State by extremely slim margins.

Roberts and Main used two attempts to get over the bar at 1.70 meters, whereas Caudle needed all three. At 1.73, Roberts and Caudle both cleared on their initial attempts, while Main required two tries. As the most efficient athlete, Roberts was declared the winner.

As every coach loves to see, Roberts' championship mark was a new indoor PR, as it bested her previous standard (1.72m) by a quarter-inch, and remains the best high jump by a female conference athlete this season.

"Khemani competed at a championship level today," Angel said. "She's been the best high jumper in the OVC all season, and she showed us that again today."

Raven Smith took home second place in the long jump, and demolished the Tennessee Tech indoor record in the process.

Smith improved as her series went along, and actually reset the TTU standard twice.

On her fifth attempt, the Atlanta native leapt 5.82 meters (19-1), which bested Roberts' program mark of 5.72 (18-9 1/4) from earlier this year.

Then, on her sixth and final jump, Smith soared 5.90 meters (19-4 1/4), which vaulted her to her runner-up finish, and stood as Tech's first eight points of the day.

Smith nearly won the event, finishing just an inch behind SIUE's Nichyria Byrd, who went 5.92 meters.

"Raven kicked it up a couple of notches with her last two jumps," Angel said. "She was focused, and was able to bring her very best when it mattered most."

Na'Scottisha Drummond scored three more points for the Purple and Gold, finishing in a tie for fifth place in the high jump. Along with Ellie Gamradt of Southeast Missouri and Baylee Porch of Jacksonville State, Drummond successfully handled the 1.62 mark on her first try, but could not clear 1.67 meters.

Tech set itself up for a big day tomorrow as well, as several athletes moved on to Thursday's final rounds for the sprints and middle distance events.

D'Airrien Jackson was the first Golden Eagle to qualify for Day 2 when she won the second heat of the 400-meter dash with a time of 54.81 seconds.

Jackson stood out in a major way among the field of 24 competitors, clocking a time more than one full second faster than anyone else. The No. 2 qualifier, Sabrina Richman of Austin Peay, came across in 55.83.

Lisa Wickham took care of business in the 60-meter dash prelims, matching her OVC-meet-record performance from 2018 with another 7.41-second run.

Wickham, who has been the top 60 sprinter from wire-to-wire so far in 2019, was .12 seconds faster than the second-place qualifier, a large margin at such a short distance.

Ceirra Tate will join Wickham in the 60-meter finals, as she took the fourth-best qualifying time with a 7.59.

The time is far-and-away Tate's best of the year, as her top mark prior to Wednesday was a 7.86 from the Samford Bulldog Open. It was also close to her career-best, a 7.55 from last year's OVC Indoor.

Jackson just missed a bid for the finals, recording a time of 7.73 seconds. The last qualifier posted a 7.71.

However, Jackson was successful in the 200-meter trials, and along with Roberts and Wickham, orchestrated Tech's best showing in Wednesday's preliminaries.

All three Golden Eagles won their respective heats. Jackson became the No. 2 qualifier with a time of 24.49 seconds, Wickham was No. 3 with a 24.50, and Roberts clinched the final spot in the finals with a mark of 24.87.

Austin Peay and Murray State will each have two contestants in the 200-meter finals, but no other program has three.

"I think we're exactly where we need to be heading into Thursday," said Angel. "Our mission for the first day is over, and we succeeded. All that's left to do now is to execute our plan on Championship Thursday. It won't be easy. There's more pressure on Day 2 when you know they're going to hand out that trophy, but I think we're more than up to the task."

Thursday's events begin with the pentathlon at 9:20 a.m. CT.