Track and Field prepares for AAC Indoor Championships

Redshirt junior Tanner Brown competes in the long jump event on Feb. 4. Brown did multiple events for track and field. (Mia Hennen/ The Sunflower)

After the 2021 American Athletic Conference Indoor Championships were canceled last spring, the Shocker track and field program is preparing for the first conference championship since 2020. 

The Shockers are set for their third team scored meet of the season, including a first place finish in the All-Kansas Invite earlier this season. The program is looking to improve on their fifth place finish in the last indoor conference meet.

“Obviously we go to every championship meet with the vision for team success,” Director of Track and Field Steve Rainbolt said. “Top-three finishes are certainly the goal and on the women’s side right now, a top four finish is more realistic. It’s going to be challenging and difficult, you never know it’s going to play out. Conference weekend, cross country, indoor and outdoor, those are always the target of our year.”

After the Shocker athletes were limited to the NCAA Regionals as their only postseason action last year, Rainbolt said it has been easier for them to have this meet to look toward. 

“I love championship track and field and I try hard to promote that with the athletes,” Rainbolt said. “As a young athlete, every week is significant, every week is important, any time you put on your college uniform it means a lot. As time goes on those are dress rehearsals. Everything we’ve done up to this point is a dress rehearsal and this is showtime and this is where it really matters.”

In the team’s most recent meet, two Shocker throwers broke the school throwers. In the women’s shot put, Amanda Kakoulias shattered the program record with a huge personal-best throw of 15.86m/52-0.5 to move up to No. 2 in the conference.

Senior Michael Bryan broke his own personal and school record in the weight throw, with a distance of 21.22m/69-7.5. Bryan moved up to No. 26 in the nation in the event as he remains atop the American Athletic Conference leaderboard heading into championships next weekend.

“I say a huge performance in Michael’s case, he improved on his own personal record and his own school record by a small amount,” Rainbolt said. “You still stand by and imagine that he’s going to unleash one at some point and who knows how far that might go because that guy’s so focused and such a terrific competitor.”

Rainbolt said he is excited for the momentum the team is gaining heading into this weekend.Dae’Trell Gordon (16.29m/53-5.5) and Anna Zimmer each threw personal bests in the shot put and weight throw last week.

Three Shockers made finals in the women’s triple jump, with all three setting new personal records. Summer Stevenson led the way with a seventh-place finish and a jump of 11.96m/39-3, with Ezinne Okoro (11.88m/38-11.75) and Grace Lange (11.87m/38-11.5) finishing right behind her in eighth and ninth.

On the track, JD Prinsloo and Sydney Johnson both ran personal bests in the 200 meters, crossing the line in 22.62 and 24.94, respectively.

Rainbolt said this momentum heading into the conference meet is typical for the program and he is excited to see how they fare with the rest of the American.

“I feel like good things are happening, good things are coming together at the right time. We’ve been doing this for a long time, I feel like our team typically does that,” Rainbolt said. “We typically round into form at the right time and we have a coaching staff that helps athletes get ready at the right time.”

The two-day conference meet will start on Friday in Birmingham, Alabama. It can also be seen on ESPN+.