Card Wins NCAA Relay – Stanford University Athletics

Card Wins NCAA Relay - Stanford University Athletics

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Stanford anchor leg Juliette Whittaker was losing ground while leading on the final lap of the women’s distance medley relay, but mustered enough energy to hold off Arkansas and give the Cardinal the victory at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on Friday. 

The Stanford team of graduate student Melissa Tanaka, sophomore Maya Valmon, freshman Rosin Willis, and freshman Whittaker led through every baton exchange on the 200-meter banked track at the Albuquerque Convention Center and won with a time of 10:56.34, a facility record.

But Stanford’s 25-meter lead began to dwindle as Whittaker, running her second race in barely an hour and at Albuquerque’s 5,300-foot elevation, began to labor late in the final laps as Lauren Gregory of Arkansas closed hard. Whittaker appeared on the verge on being caught as she rounded the final turn, only to put together enough of a burst to win the race, before collapsing with her back on the track and her eyes closed as she gasped for breath with her celebrating teammates surrounding her. 

The victory ended a lot of heartbreak for Stanford in this event. Stanford was second last year. And from 2014-18, the Cardinal was second four times and third once, finishing behind the winners in all those races by a combined difference of a mere 6.00 seconds. In 2014 and 2015, Stanford was leading on the final leg only to be chased down by Arkansas both times. 

This time, Stanford was able to gain a measure of vengeance, while winning the women’s DMR for the first time since 2000. 

Tanaka ran fifth for much of her opening 1,200-meter leg, but made a move on the backstretch of her final lap to put the Cardinal in front for good. Her split was 3:23.02. Valmon extended the lead with 400 leg of 51.91, the second-fastest in the field. 

Willis pushed the lead even farther, running an 800 leg of 2:02.75, the fastest in the field. Finally, Whittaker, with the luxury of not being able to keep something in reserve, ran her 1,600 anchor in 4:38.67, with Gregory closing in 4:31.36. 

It the first NCAA indoor victory for the Stanford women since triple jumper Erica McLain won the second of her back-to-back triple jump titles in 2008.

Whittaker and Willis continue their demanding schedule in the 800 final on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. PT and also are part of Stanford’s 4×400 relay team, which races at 4:20 p.m., though they could be replaced with alternates. 

Each won their 800 prelim heats – Whittaker in 2:01.82 and Willis…

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