— Purdue Track & Field (@PurdueTrackXC) March 11, 2018
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The women’s 4x400-meter relay team earned a runner-up finish Saturday to wrap up the NCAA Championships at Texas A&M’s Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium. Junior Sarah Loesch scored for the Boilermakers in the weight throw, while senior Brionna Thomas scored in the 400-meter dash. As a team, the Purdue women tied for 14th in the country with 14 points at the meet. The point total is the highest in program history at the meet, while the place is tied for the second-highest in school history.
All five Boilermakers who competed Saturday walked away with at least one first team All-America trophy, including Thomas who took home two.
“I thought our meet went great,” head coach Lonnie Greene said. “We fired where I thought we could fire. I’m excited. Brionna (Thomas) got back to the finals like I knew she would and she ran 51.5 seconds. Sarah (Loesch) did a great job of scoring after entering 13th. Then, the mile relay, I thought for a moment we could win it. I said at the start of the season we could win 3:27 or 3:28 and we did that today. It’s exciting and we have a talented group coming in next year. Now, we start outdoors and we’re even better outside.”
Greene used a first-time lineup in the 4x400-meter relay for the second meet in a row. The team of sophomore Chloe Abbott, senior Brionna Thomas, senior Carmiesha Cox and senior Jahneya Mitchell had run together earlier in the season, but not in that specific order. Saturday, the new order worked to near perfection. Abbott led off with a split of 52.85 seconds, which had Purdue in third in the fastest heat of the championship. Thomas then took the stick and ran the fastest second leg of anyone in the meet, splitting 51.88 seconds to give the Boilermakers the lead. Cox split 52.07 on the 200-meter banked track to keep the Boilermakers out front. Mitchell then brought it home in 52.04, the second-fastest final leg of the heat to give the Boilermakers the runner-up finish with a time of 3:28.82. That time is an all-time Big Ten Conference record time and earned eight points.
Only eight schools in the history of NCAA track & field have ever run a faster indoor 4x400-meter relay (USC, Oregon, Texas, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama and Arkansas). Purdue’s time ranks fourth in the world this year. The Boilermakers lowered the all-time Big Ten Conference record in the event by 2.51 seconds over the last two meets.
“At this meet, speed is the key,” Greene said. “You can’t play catchup at this meet. You have to put speed up front, so that’s why I shuffled up the lineup. To bring Chloe out of the hole, then let Brionna go second, Carmiesha then Jahneya anchor – I knew that was it right there.”
Since Greene took over as head coach in 2013, Purdue has had 10 top-three national finishes in an event, including at least one each year.
With the runner-up finish, Abbott, Thomas, Cox and Mitchell earn first team All-America honors in the event. It is the first time in program history the Boilermakers have earned first team honors in the mile relay.
Cox wrapped up her career Saturday, as her outdoor eligibility is exhausted. Her first team All-America honor is the fourth first-team nod of her career and ninth overall All-America honor.
Thomas earned her first career individual first team All-America honor. She advanced to the 400-meter dash finals where she took fifth to earn four points with a school-record time of 51.56 seconds. Thomas’ time is the third-fastest in Big Ten history and the fastest since 2013.
Since Thomas came to Purdue, she lowered the Boilermaker school record in the 400-meter dash by nearly three seconds. Her pair for first team All-America honors give her 11 for her career, including four first-team nods. She is the only woman from the Big Ten to earn two first team All-America honors at the meet. Her individual finish was the highest among Big Ten competitors in a track event, while Purdue’s runner-up 4x400-meter relay finish was the best relay finish of any team in the conference.
Loesch set the tone early for the Boilermakers. She was the first to compete and threw a personal record on her third attempt to move into finals. Her throw was 21.50 meters (70-6.50), which ranks third in school history, and moved her into seventh place. That’s where she’d finish, earning two points and her first career first team All-America honor. Loesch entered the meet ranked 13th in the country.
The Boilermakers finished tied for 14th in the country for the second year in a row indoors. The only team in school history to finish higher was in 1984 when the Boilermakers finished 11th.
Purdue has a quick turnaround to the outdoor season, which begins next weekend at UTSA. The team will stay in Texas to train on its spring break trip before competing in the two-day meet Friday and Saturday.