AMES, Iowa – It was a weekend to remember for the Ole Miss track and field program.
One day after the Rebels set four school records in the men’s and women’s distance races, sophomore Raven Saunders stole the show at Iowa State’s Lied Recreation Center.
Saunders has been no less than sensational all season, but Saturday’s performance topped them all. Her massive shot put of 19.23m/63-1.25 on her fifth attempt broke the women’s NCAA indoor record and is the farthest throw by a female collegian ever, indoor or outdoor. She surpassed the former record of 19.22m/63-0.75 that was set by Oklahoma’s Tia Brooks at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships.
The Charleston, South Carolina, native improved her standing as the world leader in 2016 and established new school, conference, meet and facility records. She passed her head coach Connie Price-Smith and others on the way to the No. 5 spot on the all-time U.S. indoor list and is No. 7 all-time in American history when combining indoor and outdoor marks.
By producing throws of 19.02 and 19.23 meters on Saturday, Saunders became the first woman in NCAA history to break 19 meters twice in the same competition. Incredibly, she now boasts the best 14 shot puts of the 2016 NCAA indoor season and five of the top six in the world this year.
“Breaking this record means that I’m on the right path to making the 2016 Olympic team,” Saunders said after her big day. “Throw far. Win big.”
She acknowledged that it’s not a goal she met solely by herself.
“I would like to thank my coaches and teammates for cheering me on day in and day out and everyone back home sending their prayers and support from afar,” Saunders said. “It all helps contribute to the success I’m having. I love my strong foundation.”
The two-time NCAA shot put champion as a freshman last year at Southern Illinois, Saunders is the frontrunner to win SEC titles and NCAA titles this year and already has a strong case for Bowerman Award consideration for the top female athlete in collegiate track & field.
“It was a really good weekend,” said Price-Smith, the Rebels’ first-year head coach who will also direct the U.S. women at the Rio Olympics. “Raven had a phenomenal throw. She was very focused, and she hit a good one. She’s been trying to do it all season and it finally happened. We’re excited about that and excited about the rest of the meet. There were quite a few PRs again and the school records. It was a good trip.”
Ole Miss also excelled in the women’s 60 meter dash at the Iowa State Classic, as all four Rebels made the final and Ole Miss placed 1-2-3 at the top. Khadijah Suleman claimed the event title in 7.45, followed by Shannon Ray in 7.50 and Nicole Henderson in 7.51. Breanna Tate ran 7.60 for seventh place.
It was a fast men’s mile on Saturday as a pair of Rebels flirted with sub-4 times. Junior Ryan Manahan, a transfer from Georgetown, ran his first mile as a Rebel and finished third with a time of 4:00.38 to move into third place on the all-time Rebel chart and rank among the top 30 in the nation this year. Junior Craig Engels ran 4:01.80 in his first mile of the year.
Other top-three finishers from Ole Miss on Saturday were Lanae Newsome in the women’s triple jump (2nd place, 12.03m/39-5.75), Lindsey Murray in the women’s pole vault (3rd place, 4.05m/13-3.5) and Branden Greene in the men’s high jump (3rd place, 2.10m/6-10.75).
Ole Miss will have two weeks to prepare for the 2016 SEC Indoor Championships, to be held Feb. 26-27 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“We have next weekend off before conference,” Price-Smith said. “Everybody came out and competed really hard this weekend. We only get to take 27 people for conference, so it was good to see who will be ready and who won’t. We want to make sure everybody is sharp and ready over the next couple of weeks.”