Eric Babb and Barrett Saunders finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the men's long jump final to earn All-American honors Thursday at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. In other action from the day, junior Ashley Brown qualified for the semifinals in the women's 400-meter hurdles, breaking a school record in the process.
Despite windy conditions, Babb and Saunders continued to display the consistency and excellence that got them to the NCAA Championships. On his first jump, Babb cleared 24-10.50 (7.58m) to claim fourth place. Saunders' best jump also came on his first attempt, when he leapt 24-07 (7.49m).
"It feels pretty good. It was nice after these four years to make it this far, become an All-American and give back to Coach Donley since it is his final season," Babb said. "It was a great experience to jump with Barrett, Crystal Manning, Eric Fattig and all my teammates. They really got me through the rigors of practice, training and competition."
The pair earned nine valuable points for the Jayhawks with their effort and are the first KU jumpers to receive the distinction of Outdoor All-American since 1975. They are also the first pair of Jayhawks ever to earn top-eight finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the event.
"It is a good ending to a great season," Saunders said. "Coach Donley has brought me a long ways since I first arrived at Kansas. I am glad that Eric and I both sent him out as our coach by becoming All-Americans. Eric and I both wanted to come and represent for our group for all the hard work they all put in this season. Eric has become one of my best of my best friends and it was an honor to jump with him."
Kansas vertical jumps coach, Milan Donley, was very proud of the duo's effort in his final meet as their coach.
"I think they performed tremendously this year and this weekend," Donley said. "To bring two guys to the NCAA Championships for their first time and have both of them stand on the award platform is very rewarding. I could not have asked for anything more from them."
Junior Ashley Brown continued her assault on the school record books, breaking her own record in the 400-meter hurdles with a third-place finish in her preliminary heat in a time of 57.15 seconds. With the time, fourth-fastest time among all the preliminary heats, she qualified for the semifinals of the event, which will be run at 8:55 pm CST on Friday night.
"Before the race I was nervous, but once it started I really relaxed and ran my own race," Brown said. "I was in a fast heat and focused on what I had been working on in practice. I definitely feel like I have something left for the rest of the competition."
Senior Janiece Gatson placed fifth in her preliminary heat of the 400-meter finals in 1:01.20 and did not qualify for the event's semifinals. Gatson wrapped up her career with a top-five finish at both the Big 12 Outdoor championships and the NCAA Midwest Region in the event and ranks third all-time in school history with a career-best effort of 59.16 seconds. She also participated as a member of the indoor and outdoor 4x400-meter relay teams, helping the Jayhawks earn points at numerous championships throughout her career.
Sophomore Victoria Howard raced to a fifth-place finish in her preliminary heat of the 200-meter dash in 23.81 seconds. Although she did not qualify for the event's semifinals, she had a successful 2007 season that saw her set a new school record in the indoor 200-meter dash (24.03) and move up to third all-time in the outdoor 200-meter dash (23.45) and fourth in the 100-meter dash (11.58).
Junior Josh Kirk placed 22nd in the decathlon with 6,910 points. He earned his most points Thursday in the pole vault, 731, when he cleared 14-05.25 (4.40m).
Kansas has a very busy Friday ahead of them, as Egor Agafonov, Julius Jiles, Abby Emsick and Kate Sultanova will all compete in the finals of their respective events. Junior Crystal Manning will also compete in the women's triple jump qualifying heats.