Little accomplishes a lot at college track and field debut


Mackenzie Little, a freshman making her collegiate debut, came within six inches of the Stanford women's javelin record while winning at the 41st Stanford Track and Field Invitational on Friday at Cobb Track and Angell Field.

Little threw 183 feet, 4 inches (55.88 meters) to win by more than 20 feet and threaten the 2013 mark held by four-time Pac-12 champion Brianna Bain. The throw is the second-longest among collegians this year, No. 2 in school history, and breaks Bain's Stanford freshman record of 180-2 from 2012.

Mackenzie Little
Little, 19, is an Australian who won the 2013 World Youth Championships in Ukraine, but had barely competed the past two years after surgery to remove a cyst in her leg, studying for end-of-school exams, and a lag between the Aussie and American seasons.

She opened with a disappointing 144-11, the sixth-best throw of the opening round, but jumped to 165-6 on her second and improved upon that by 17 feet on her fourth attempt.

Little admitted nervousness for several reasons – her Stanford debut, her first meet in some time, and even the large crowd, much bigger than she was accustomed to back home. "Intimidated," was the word she used to describe competing in a meet with more than 2,500 athletes.

Still, Little was happy, but not content.

"Today was the opening meet, so I couldn't expect too much," Little said. "But I would've like to have been a little more consistent technically. "

Little is the third Australian on the Stanford team, following quarter-miler Steven Solomon, who is taking a year off to prepare for the Olympics, and sophomore middle-distance runner Anna Laman. All three are from the state of New South Wales and knew each other through national teams and communicated with Laman during the application process.

Little says the change has been great for her.

"At Stanford, I'm able to fit in an enormous amount of training hours, because I have all the support staff and facilities all right here, which is a lot easier than back home with a lot of travel time," she said. "It's really been beneficial. I'm glad I did it."

She credits associate head coach Michelle Eisenreich for much of her improvement.

"My run's improved," she said. "Here, there's a really big focus on being quick, energetic, light and getting into good positions. Because once you get into the positions, it's going to be a good throw."

Baker gets some speed work

Stanford's Olivia Baker, third place in the NCAA Indoor 800 three weeks ago, handled an unusual double -– the 400 and 100. She won the top section of the 400 in 53.49, but was second overall to pro Dalilah Muhammad, the 2013 U.S. 400 hurdles champ, who came out of the second section to run 52.64.

Baker followed 45 minutes later with a fifth in the 100 in 12.04, with fellow Card sophomores Michaela Crunkleton Wilson and Gaby Gayles finishing third and fourth, in 11.79 and 11.80.

"I was just trying to get in some speed work early in the season, really turn it over again," said Baker, the New Jersey high school 400 record-holder. " I'm still a 400/800 runner. I definitely wanted to get the 400 in."

Baker can project how the speed work will help in the 800, especially as she continues to grow into the national elite.

"Doing 4x400s and the 400 today helps so that when I come through the first lap of the 800, a 59-60 pace doesn't feel too bad. I'll have the speed from the 400 to come through comfortably. And running more 800's helps with the strength part at the end, to be ready to bring it home.

The NCAA Indoor finish has provided a big boost as well..

"Throughout the indoor season, I ran in a bunch of competitive races, really learning the event and running in different race situations," Baker said. "I feel like NCAA's was the culmination of that. Being in a tactical race and being able to maneuver within the pack with the top 800 runners in the country , to be able run that race and finish third, definitely boosts my confidence."

Another freshman winner

Stanford freshman Kaitlyn Merritt made her home debut by winning the pole vault in front of boisterous dormmates from Serra and Stern halls.

Merritt, a two-time California high school champion from Santa Margarita Catholic in Orange County, jumped 13-0 1/4. The height wasn't her best this season – she has jumped 13-5 1/4 -- but Merritt was happy with the corrections she made during the competition and her performance on a bigger pole.

"It's definitely a transition coming into college from high school," she said. "It's a different ballgame. My first few meets I came in and was a little overwhelmed by the whole scene. Now, I've built confidence and I feel back to my old self. I'm confident in my vaulting and I'm ready for big bars."

Her goals are 4.30 meters (14-1 1/4) and the NCAA Championships. Though it might not be on her radar, Stanford's freshman record of 13-7 3/4 seems there for the taking.

Ellie McCardwell '14, the holder of that freshman record, was at the meet Friday. When told she still has the record, she replied: "Barely."

Breakthrough for Katz

Stanford junior Danielle Katz crushed her personal record in the 5,000 by nearly two minutes to finish sixth in the third section and gave notice that she could be in for a big season in her main event -– the steeplechase.

Katz ran 16:09.45, another world from the 17:58.77 she ran at the 2014 Pac-12 Championships. The comparison is not totally fair because Katz hasn't raced the distance since, but still significant. She led a group of five Stanford runners in the race, with four of them running lifetime bests.

Despite her success, Katz was not interested in switching events.

"I'm still a steeplechaser," she said. "I'm hoping that it carries over to steeple next weekend at the Big Meet. I'm really hoping to improve my steeplechase performance this season, that's the primary goal. But this is fun."

The plan from coach Liz DeBole was to break the race into two phases -– a relaxed 3K followed by an intense final 2K.

"I had no idea what I could do," Katz said. "I realized I have to feel this out."

Katz credited the pacing of teammate Molly McNamara, who also paced a section of the 1,500 earlier in the day, for making it easier.

"I was relying on Molly to take us out at the right pace, and she did beautifully," Katz said. "That was incredible. She was supposed to be 78s and I don't think she deviated by more than half a second.

"Molly is an inspiration to put it mildly. She's just always putting the team first, not just in practice and competition, but in all that she's done for Stanford athletics throughout her five years here."

A sidelight to her race is that Katz suffered a small fracture in her arm five weeks ago when she fell as she began a run and has just resumed jumping drills for the steeplechase this week.

Half-milers move up in distance

Like Katz, Malika Waschmann also had a breakthrough race. Continuing the momentum from her indoor season, during which she regularly dropped her 800 times and helped the Cardinal distance medley relay team to third at the NCAA Championships.

On Friday, the junior won the third section of the 1,500 convincingly in 4:16.53, shattering her personal record of 4:28.83. The time was greater than Waschmann hoped for and missed breaking into Stanford's all-time top-10 list by only 0.23.

At Corvallis (Ore.) High, she won state individual titles in the 300 hurdles and 400. As a Stanford freshman, she focused on the 400 hurdles. Now, she's a half-miler in a great condition, as evidenced by a time that would have placed fifth in the top section, against a field of professionals.

Claudia Saunders, a two-time NCAA outdoor 800 runner-up, also moved up to the 1,500 for the day and won the second section and set a lifetime best by four seconds in running 4:17.33, edging recent NCAA Indoor fourth-place 800 finisher Savannah Camacho of Oklahoma State.

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