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Courtesy: UTSA Athletics

Roadrunners post best finish in 15 years at Southland Conference Outdoor Championships

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SAN MARCOS — UTSA nearly won its first Southland Conference Championship since 1997 and the Roadrunners posted their best finish in 15 years on Sunday at the league's annual meet.

UTSA, which led for most of the final day, saw its title hopes come to an end in the last event, the 1,600m relay. Trailing by three-and-a-half points (135.5-132), three-time defending champion Stephen F. Austin won by just seven one-hundredths of a second over Northwestern State, while the Roadrunners placed fifth in a season-best 3:44.33, and that propelled the Ladyjacks a 142-139.5 victory in the team standings. The margin of victory was the closest since UTSA edged UT Arlington by one point in 1993.

The Roadrunners won a total of four individual/relay crowns on Sunday in their final meet as a member of the conference.

Redshirt senior Dana Mecke picked up the second 1,500 meters crown of her career in 4:29.65, while junior Eboni Johnson was victorious in the triple jump with a personal-best skip of 41-7 ¼ (12.68m). Sophomore Jhorden Hunter edged freshman teammate Shahira Ehiemua by five one-hundredths of a second for gold in the 100m (11.66) and the 400m relay of Ehiemua, freshman Chiugo Okonkwo, sophomore Krystal Wynn and Hunter passed the baton in 44.81 for their second school record of the season and the program's sixth all-time victory in the event (first since 2005).

UTSA came into the day in second place, but it took just three events for the Birds to climb to the top of the team standings.

Junior Stacia Newton picked up a pair of points with a seventh-place finish in the discus (139-7/42.56m), but day two leader SFA saw its lead grow to a dozen points after La'Tricia Griffin and Tiffany Mott were second and eighth, respectively, in the event.

Johnson got 10 of those points back with her victory in the triple jump. Her measurement added nearly a foot to her previous best established two weeks ago at the Bobcat Classic and it marked the program's second title in the event and first in 20 years (Portia Matthews 1992).

"I came into the meet a little banged up and, honestly, this is a complete shock to me right now," she said following her win. "I just went out there and gave it all I had and was able to PR by a foot. I want to thank Coach Fox and Coach Brown for everything they've done for me."

The Roadrunners moved into the lead following their triumph in the 400m relay. The quartet shaved nearly a half second off the standard (45.26) it recorded at last month's Longhorn Invitational and the mark ranks second in league history, behind UT Arlington's 44.59 registered a dozen years ago.

"We've worked extremely hard for this and it came through today," all four members of the 400m relay said. "We've been good teammates and pushed each other all season long. We had faith we would get the job done and it was a blessing to win today."

Mecke and sophomore teammates Nina Herrera and Alyssa Diaz helped UTSA stretch the advatage to 19 after they combined to score 17 points in the metric mile. The 2010 Southland Outdoor Athlete of the Year won by nearly two-and-a-half seconds for her second consecutive victory in the event (she redshirted a year ago) and the 10th of her prestigious career (six indoor/three outdoor/one cross country). Meanwhile, Herrera (4:32.63) and Diaz (PR 4:38.80) finished fourth and seventh, respectively.

"It's truly been a blessing to be able to come back and compete this season," Mecke said after her victory. "A lot of people wish they had one more shot and I've been fortunate enough to get that chance. I just want to finish the season the best I can because this is the last opportunity I will have to do what I love."

Stephen F. Austin sliced eight points off the lead when Chelsea Stephen won the 100m hurdles, while freshman Adrienne Mosby placed seventh (15.05).

The Ladyjacks retook the lead when Mary Dickerson and Paige McCutcheon countered junior Briony Miller's seventh-place effort (55.89) in the quarter with a victory and fourth-place performance, respectively.

However, Hunter and Ehiemua promptly gave it right back to UTSA following their 1-2 finish in the 100m.

"It's taken a long time to get here and I'm so happy to get this point," Hunter said. "I want to thank my UTSA family for all their support. It's taken a lot of hard work to get here and it all paid off with this victory. To finish 1-2 with Shahira is very exciting because we've been racing together since high school."

SFA then made up a point after Danielle Burchett raced to a gold medal in the 800m, which offset fourth- and fifth-place showings by Mecke (2:08.98) and sophomore Grace Williamson (2:10.43).

The Ladyjacks continued to chip away, as Ashley Burris finished fourth in the 400m hurdles, while junior Shartanae Swearengin placed seventh (1:01.02).

Ehiemua helped the Birds get a point back with her third-place effort (23.91) in the deuce (Dickerson was fourth), which gave her a team-high 16.5 for the meet, but Stephen F. Austin answered in the 5k with a combined 15 points that countered a fifth-place performance by sophomore Isabel Balbontin, who clocked a personal-best 17:41.61.

Sophomore April Benavidez added three-and-a-half points to the Birds' total after tying for fifth (12-1 ½/3.70m) in the pole vault. Jessica Cunningham cleared the same height for the Ladyjacks, but placed seventh due to more misses and that set the stage for the finale.

Sunday's four gold medals, when combined with the victories posted by juniors Katie Bragg (hammer) and Zaquita McClanhan (shot put) on Friday and Saturday, respectively, pushed the UTSA's all-time total to 60 and the half dozen titles were the most since the 1997 championship squad matched a school record with seven.

"The girls had a great meet," fourth-year head coach Aaron Fox said. "We went for it today and were so close to winning the championship. To lose by a few points is tough, but we return almost our entire team next year and what happened today only will make us better and stronger. Our seniors have provided great leadership this season and the assistant coaches did another great job with this group. Everyone has worked hard to get us to this point and we are starting to see the reward for that hard work.

"I want to thank the Southland Conference and its coaches for everything they've done for our program. I have developed so many lifetime friendships during our time in the league and everyone has been a class act."

The Roadrunners will be back in action in two weeks when they begin competition at the NCAA Championships Preliminary Rounds in Austin. The three-day meet gets underway on Thursday, May 24, at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the campus of the University of Texas.

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