Ole Miss Track & Field Returns to Nashville for Music City Challenge
Published 7:00 am Friday, February 12, 2021
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ole Miss track & field closes out its regular season with a return trip to Vanderbilt for the Music City Challenge this weekend. Competition is set for Feb. 12-13, and the meet will air live on SEC Network+.
• Both Rebel squads enter nationally ranked, with the Ole Miss men sitting in the top-10 at No. 8 and the women No. 20 in the Week Three USTFCCCA Rating Index. This is the 32nd appearance in the indoor top-25 for both the Rebel men and women since the indoor polls began in 2008. Both dropped two spots from Week Two, when the Rebel men earned a program-record No. 6 slot.
• Ranked men’s teams alongside the No. 8 Rebel men are No. 2 LSU, No. 7 Georgia, No. 11 Tennessee and No. 25 Missouri. Ranked women’s squads alongside No. 20 Ole Miss are No. 3 Georgia, No. 6 LSU, No. 11 Kentucky and No. 21 Auburn.
• Other schools in competition include East Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Furman, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Louisville, Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Southern Miss, UT Martin and Vanderbilt.
• Ole Miss owns 16 times or marks currently within the NCAA top-50, seven of which rest within the top-20.
• Leading the way is a Rebel throws squad with five top-50 marks that returned to full strength at South Carolina last week with All-American senior Shey Taiwo opening her season at 21.43m (70-03.75) to beat Auburn’s Madi Malone by two centimeters for the victory — currently the seventh-best in the NCAA. Taiwo is the reigning SEC Champion at her career-best 22.72m (72-11.75), the second-best throw in school history.
• All-American sophomore Jasmine Mitchell leads all Rebel women with her NCAA No. 5 mark in the weight throw of 21.57m (70-09.25) from the season-opening Commodore Indoor. Mitchell is the reigning SEC runner-up in the weight at her PR of 22.23m (72-11.75), the third-best throw in school history.
• Other Rebel women’s weight throwers ranking in the NCAA top-50 include sophomore Jalani Davis (weight throw, 14th, 20.82m/68-08.75) and senior Deborah Bulai (weight throw, 34th, 19.56m/64-02.25).
• Junior Tedreauna Britt is coming off a career performance at South Carolina in the shot put of 16.33m (53-07.00). She currently ranks 14th nationally and third in the SEC this season, and with her performance she became the third Rebel to ever break the 53-foot plateau indoors behind Olympian Raven Saunders (19.56m/64-02.25) and All-American Janeah Stewart (17.63m/57-10.25).
• Ole Miss took the women’s weight throw by storm in 2020, becoming the first school in NCAA history with three women at or above the 22-meter plateau (Shey Taiwo, Jasmine Mitchell, Deborah Bulai) in a single season, all three of whom qualified for the national meet and earned All-American honors. Prior to 2020, only three schools ever had two 22-meter throwers (Florida, 2004; Louisville, 2010; Southern Illinois, 2011), including a Southern Illinois squad coached by head coach Connie Price-Smith and throws coach John Smith via marks from Olympian Gwen Berry and NCAA Champion Jeneva McCall (both ended up serving as Ole Miss volunteer assistant coaches). Notre Dame also had two throwers beyond 22 meters, making 2020 the first in NCAA history to have multiple schools have multiple athletes throw beyond that mark.
• Taiwo led the crew in fourth nationally at her SEC title winning throw of 22.72m (74-06.50), Mitchell eighth at 22.23m (72-11.75) and Bulai 13th at 22.02m (72-03.00). The trio rank second, third and fourth in school history behind two-time U.S. champion and 2020 world leader Janeah Stewart, whose school record 24.12m (79-01.75) still ranks sixth in NCAA history.
• Sophomore newcomer Sintayehu Vissa impressed in her Rebel debut at the Razorback Invite, running the fastest 800-meter time at Ole Miss since 2017. Vissa, a transfer from Division II Saint Leo University, clocked a six-second PR of 2:06.45 in her first race, the fourth-best time in Ole Miss history that currently ranks sixth in the SEC and No. 13 in the NCAA. At Saint Leo, Vissa was an All-American in the 800-meter.
• Senior Anna Elkin is off to a great start in her final indoor campaign, currently ranking 14th nationally in the 5K at 16:21.83 (five-second PR, No. 4 all-time) and 40th in the mile at 4:46.23 (13-second PR, No. 3 all-time. Fellow senior Victoria Simmons also ranks 30th in the 5K at 17:07.22.
• The Ole Miss mile record progression has been on a wild ride over the last month, with three different Rebels claiming the crown across three separate meets. Elkin first took down Maddie King’s 2019 record of 4:46.45 with her career-best 13-second PR of 4:46.23 at Vanderbilt to start the season, but that lasted only one week until sophomore Loral Winn reset the top time at 4:45.60 (36th NCAA). For Winn, it was a six-second PR that was the latest in an impressive progression from her freshman PR (4:58.92) to her season open at Vanderbilt (4:52.79).
• King reclaimed her throne, though, dropping the record another two seconds faster at a three-second PR of 4:43.44 (23rd NCAA) at the South Carolina Invite last week. Of the top-15 women’s mile times in school history, 13 have been set since 2016.
• Underclassmen pole vaulters Lyndsey Reed (18th NCAA, 4.15m/13-07.25) and Samara McConnell (33rd NCAA, 4.08m/13-04.50) have been off to a great start to 2021, leading a deep women’s vault crew. McConnell has claimed two victories in her first three collegiate meets, and she currently leads all SEC freshmen and ranks sixth among freshmen nationally in the pole vault.
• All-American junior Brandee Presley improved slightly from her season-open 7.37 at the Razorback Invite, running 7.35 in the prelim. She currently ranks 23rd in the NCAA and No. 8 in the SEC at that time. Presley is the Ole Miss record holder at 7.18 from the 2020 UAB Blazer Invite, where she twice broke All-American Teneeshia Jones’ 2001 record of 7.28.
• Presley is also the Ole Miss outdoor record holder in the 100-meter dash at 11.19 (+2.0), which she set her freshman season to become the first Rebel to ever break 11.20. As a freshman, Presley earned two Second-Team All-American honors and a U.S. U20 gold medal before earning a silver in the 100-meter and gold in the women’s 4×100-meter relay for Team USA at the Pan American U20 Championships.
• Fellow All-American junior Jayda Eckford improved to 23.88 in the 200-meter dash last week at South Carolina, currently the No. 34 time in the NCAA. In 2020, Eckford toppled Teneeshia Jones’ record in the 200-meter dash, breaking it twice at the SEC Indoor Championships. Eckford ran 23.29 in the prelim before breaking the record again in the final at 23.18 to finish fifth overall. Eckford ranked 12th among qualifiers in the event at the national meet.
• Likewise, Eckford also owns the outdoor 200-meter record from her freshman season in 2019, toppling Jones’ all-conditions 200-meter record at 22.72 (+2.2). Additionally, that freshman season saw her also become the first Rebel to break 23 seconds at a wind-legal time of 22.98 (+0.6) and win silver in the 200 at both the U.S. U20 and Pan-American U20 Championships.
• The No. 8 Rebel men own 15 NCAA top-50 times or marks, nine of which come from the Ole Miss distance squad.
• Leading the charge is the men’s distance medley relay squad of Waleed Suliman, Baylor Franklin, Everett Smulders and Mario Garcia Romo, who put together an amazing race in what ended up being a historic DMR at Arkansas. Ole Miss finished thrd at 9:30.62, the second-fastest time in program history just off the record 9:30.48 set exactly five years prior by Robert Domanic, Ryan Manahan, Craig Engels and Sean Tobin at the Penn State National on Jan. 29, 2016. Ole Miss’ time sits No. 3 in the NCAA and atop the SEC leaderboard, almost assuring a spot at the NCAA Championships, but the No. 1 Oregon men stole the show, setting the world record at 9:19.42 — thanks in part to a pace set by 1200-leg rabbit Cade Bethmann.
• The Rebels remained the dominant force in the SEC in the distance medley relay in 2020, winning their sixth DMR title in the last seven years following a gutsy performance from the quartet of Nick Moulai (1200m), James Burnett (400m), Baylor Franklin (800m) and Waleed Suliman (mile).
• All four Rebel men on the DMR had extraordinary individual races at Arkansas as well. Smulders led on that front, becoming the fourth Rebel member of the sub-4 mile club at 3:58.93. Smulders joins rarified company at Ole Miss and in the track world in general as the 565th American to ever break the iconic four-minute barrier since Cal’s Don Bowdon first did so in 1957 (3:58.7). His time ranks fourth all-time behind All-Americans Waleed Suliman (3:56.78, 2019), Sean Tobin (3:58.28, 2018) and Derek Gutierrez (3:58.55, 2019), as well as No. 7 in the NCAA and No. 3 in the SEC this season.
• Garcia Romo dismantled Domanic’s 2016 record in the 3K of 7:54.58, running a monstrous 17-second PR of 7:48.40 to finish fourth in a stacked men’s race at Arkansas that leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally. Garcia Romo is the reigning SEC Cross Country Champion and SEC Runner of the Year from last fall’s cross country season.
• If not for Garcia Romo’s heroics, Suliman would have bested Domanic’s record himself by one-hundredth of a second at his new PR of 7:54.57, currently the ninth-best time in the NCAA and fourth-best in the SEC. Cole Bullock also ranks highly after an impressive 3K in his first collegiate race, ranking seventh all-time at 8:00.13 — the No. 16 time nationally and No. 5 in the SEC.
• Suliman stands alongside Derek Gutierrez as the lone pair in Ole Miss history to own sub-8 times in the 3K and sub-4 times in the mile. Suliman is the Ole Miss record holder in the mile at 3:56.78 from the 2019 David Hemery Invite at Boston University. He also broke the four-minute barrier in 2020 at 3:57.03 at the Vanderbilt Invite, which ended up qualifying him for the national meet with the fifth-best seed time. Suliman is a three-time All-American indoors, once in the distance medley relay in 2018 (Second-Team) and twice in the mile in 2019 (Second-Team) and 2020 (general).
• Franklin improved in the 800-meter for the second straight meet at Arkansas, winning at 1:48.59. The time improved on his slot at No. 6 all-time, as well as No. 5 in the NCAA and No. 2 in the SEC this season. Smulders’ season-open 800-meter time of 1:48.75 still holds at No. 8 nationally and No. 5 in the conference, while Bethmann posted a new career-best 1:51.34 to move to No. 38 in the NCAA and No. 11 in the SEC.
• Dalton Hengst also owns an NCAA top-50 time in the mile at 4:04.92 (37th).
• All-American senior Allen Gordon put together an all-around fantastic day at the Razorback Invite, nearly doubling in the long jump and high jump. Gordon opened the day with a sizable win in the long jump at a season-best 7.72m (25-04.00), currently the No. 8 jump nationally and No. 6 in the SEC. He then took runner-up status in the high jump at 2.19m (7-02.25) after a tough back-and-forth battle with USC’s Earnie Sears, who set the NCAA lead with his winning height of 2.26m (7-05.00). Gordon’s height, meanwhile, ranks No. 6 nationally and second in the SEC, and his long jump mark rests just 11 centimeters off his indoor career-best of 7.83m (25-08.25). He enters his final indoor season as one of the better jumpers in Ole Miss history, as last season he joined Olympian Savante’ Stringfellow as the only Rebels to clear 7-2 in the high jump and 25-5 in the long jump indoors. Last year, Gordon’s indoor career-best long jump distance of 7.83m (25-08.25) ended up 12th on the NCAA performance list heading into the national meet. Gordon proved his versatility all season long, recording additional personal bests in the high jump (2.20m/7-02.50) and triple jump (15.00m/49-02.50).
• The Rebel men’s throwers had a strong meet at South Carolina last week, led by junior Joseph Benedetto becoming the second-best weight thrower in school history. Benedetto’s new PR of 20.85m (68-05.00) rests within one foot of All-American Dempsey McGuigan’s 2018 record of 21.11m (69-03.25), and it currently puts him at No. 20 in the NCAA and seventh in the SEC.
• Both Daniel Viveros (45th, 17.58m/57-08.25) and Danny Guiliani (48th, 17.53m/57-06.25) recorded season-bests at South Carolina to enter the NCAA top-50.
• Junior Kenney Broadnax also had a season-best at South Carolina, breaking eight seconds for the first time since his foot injury at 7.99 — currently No. 39 in the NCAA.
• The Rebels opened the season at Vanderbilt’s Commodore Indoor on Jan. 15-16, the first meet for Ole Miss in 322 days since a promising 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic just one day before the NCAA Indoor Championships were set to begin in Albuquerque, New Mexico last March.
• Ole Miss boasts an SEC-exclusive schedule this indoor season, with remaining stops at South Carolina (South Carolina Invite, Feb. 5-6), Vanderbilt (Music City Classic, Feb. 13), and back to Arkansas for both the SEC Indoor Championships (Feb. 25-27) and NCAA Indoor Championships (March 11-13).
• Ole Miss won two SEC titles in 2020 in the women’s weight throw (Shey Taiwo) and the men’s distance medley relay (Nick Moulai, James Burnett, Baylor Franklin and Waleed Suliman).
• Ole Miss had eight student-athletes qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, who all earned All-America honors following the cancellation of the national meet. Those Rebel All-Americans all return in 2021 and include senior thrower Deborah Bulai, junior sprinter Jayda Eckford, senior jumper Allen Gordon, sophomore thrower Jasmine Mitchell, senior distance runner John Rivera Jr., junior sprinter Brandee Presley, senior distance runner Waleed Suliman and senior thrower Shey Taiwo.
• A total of 23 new Rebels join the roster in 2021: pole vaulter Alex Brooks, thrower Costen Campion, distance runner Whit Dennis, sprinter Ashanti Denton, distance runner Marcus Dropik, multi athlete Luke Etherton, distance runner Makayla Fick, jumper Skye Gross, pole vaulter Remy Guertel, distance runner Ryann Helmers, jumper Ukurugenzi Kojo, pole vaulter Samara McConnell, jumper Kyla McLaurin, jumper/sprinter Ryan Star, sprinter Isaiah Teer, distance runner Kristel van den Berg, distance runner Sintayehu Vissa, pole vaulter Miles Walden, jumper Tyra Weathersby, sprinter Olivia Womack and sprinter Tristyn Wooley.
• Ole Miss enters year six under head coach Connie Price-Smith, who has led the Rebels to new heights in her time in Oxford with five NCAA top-25 team finishes, four NCAA individual titles, 34 SEC individual titles and 82 total First or Second-Team All-American awards. In 20 years as a head coach at both Ole Miss and Southern Illinois dating back to 2002, Price-Smith has collected 12 NCAA event titles and mentored 151 All-Americans on the track.
• In its history indoors, Ole Miss has finished in the NCAA top-25 of the team standings 15 total times (11 times on the men’s side, four times on the women’s side). Under Price-Smith, the Rebels have recorded their highest women’s team finish ever indoors (12th, 2017) and the fourth-best indoors for the men (16th, 2017).
• Ole Miss owns 105 First or Second-Team All-Americans indoors (70 men, 35 women), as well as eight NCAA titles (11 total NCAA Champions; nine men, two women). Of those 105, a total of 42 All-Americans (27 men, 15 women) have come under Price-Smith, as well as two NCAA titles (Raven Saunders, shot put, 2017; men’s DMR, 2017).