Women sprinters find motivation through friendly competition
Hannah Cunliffe has been dominating indoor track and field this season.
Less than two weeks ago, she won her third 60-meter win of the season and set a new collegiate record at the Don Kirby Elite Invitational. But her toughest competition comes from the two athletes she faces every day: her teammates.
2016 Olympians Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington are always close behind Cunliffe. The three have already swept the Columbia East-West Challenge, with Cunliffe coming out on top. It was reminiscent of the last time they swept the podium at last year’s outdoor Pac-12 Championships.
In track and field, individual success is as, if not more, important than team-wide success. Athletes constantly strive for faster times, which in turns forces their teammates to try and keep up. Particularly during practice, Cunliffe makes it a point to “outwork” her teammates.
“They’re the best of the best,” Cunliffe said. “You’ve just got to come in every day with a positive attitude. Doesn’t matter how hard the workout is.”
This is particularly beneficial to Washington, who believes that without training partners, she wouldn’t work as hard as she does.
“Part of the reason I came here is because I was going to have training partners like Jenna [Prandini] and Jasmine [Todd],” Washington said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere where I felt like I was going to be by myself.”
Cunliffe, Washington and Stevens have made it a goal to not only win the NCAA 4×100 title but sweep the NCAA Championships in the 100-meter and possibly the 200. Last year, Oregon’s women were expecting to win the 4×100 after commanding in the sprints the entire season. But a hamstring injury to Cunliffe and academic issues with Jasmine Todd forced Oregon to run two alternates, resulting in a third-place finish. Washington and Stevens went 1-2 in the 200-meter, but Cunliffe’s injury prevented the sweep.
No one can attest to the need for talented teammates more than senior Sasha Wallace. As a hurdler, Wallace spent her first two seasons with the Ducks training on her own. Even though she found success throughout those years by breaking the school record in the 60-meter hurdles, Wallace’s best times and finishes have come after the arrival of Alaysha Johnson.
After redshirting her freshman year, Johnson took the school record from Wallace by running 12.97 seconds at the NCAA West Preliminary. Soon after, Wallace took it back by finishing the semi-finals of the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 12.95.
“With Lay [Alaysha Johnson], I tell her that I don’t allow her to beat me, and she shouldn’t allow me to beat her,” Wallace said. “I think that’s really something that helps and motivates us to be as good as we are right now.”
Oregon had added another hurdler to the women’s roster this season, giving Johnson a teammate after Wallace departs later this year. Freshman Rhesa Foster has found early success, placing third behind her teammates to sweep the 60-meter hurdles at the Columbia East-West Challenge.
“It’s hard to do anything alone,” Wallace said. “The fact that we have each other is what really pushes us to be the best that we can be.”
Follow Hannah Bonnie on Twitter @hbonnie03
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