Utah State did all it could to close out its stay in the Western Athletic Conference with another men’s track and field title, but Texas State was also up to the challenge.
The Aggies pulled to within one point of the Bobcats heading into the final event, but the Bobcats ran an outstanding 4x400-meter relay time to edge USU, 149-143, at the four-day WAC Outdoor Championships, which concluded Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
“When you lose that close of a meet, it’s difficult, but we put up a really good fight and I was pretty pleased with the way we performed,” USU head coach Gregg Gensel said.
This was arguably the best and deepest men’s field USU has encountered since joining the WAC in 2005. Case in point: The top five teams in the seven-school field scored at least 117 points.
Several USU athletes put together career-best performances Saturday and, as a result, the Aggies nearly overcame a 32-point deficit heading into the meet’s final day.
“I wouldn’t call it overachieving, but I think they achieved some pretty high marks, considering we were ranked third going in,” Gensel said. “And for us to nearly win it ... I think that overachieve might not be what I would call it, but I’m glad they achieved the way they did.”
On the women’s side, Texas State — a first-year WAC member which consistently has a strong track and field program — made it a clean sweep by easily outpointing runner-up Texas-Arlington, 179-140. USU finished seventh in the eight-team field with 63 points.
The Aggie women were led Saturday by Tylee Newman, who was selected as the WAC Freshman of the Year after placing second in the 1,500 meters with a time of 4 minutes, 27.75 seconds. Newman missed out on the title by a mere three-tenths of a second.
“It’s good. I was really hoping for a gold medal, but I feel like I did my very best and I’m happy with how it ended up,” Newman said. “It was good. ... I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaches ... and I’ve really been blessed to be on the Utah State team.”
Pacing the USU men’s comeback Saturday was Bryce Hall and the squad’s 800-meter runners.
The Aggies scored a whopping 23 points in the 800, as Tyler Killpack (1:51.44), Britton Page (1:51.67) and Spencer Russell (1:55.13) finished first, second and fourth, respectively.
“It was awesome,” Killpack said of the trio. “I mean, we’ve worked out every day together and it’s a great group, they were awesome. We made each other better every day in practice and it showed in the conference meet.”
For Killpack, a redshirt senior from the small Utah town of Ferron, being a conference champion was a dream come true.
“Words can not describe it,” said Killpack, who went on to thank USU’s coaching staff. “It’s my fifth year and I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out.”
Hall made sure the Aggies got off to a good start early in the day by finishing second in the hammer with a personal-best mark of 192 feet, 8 inches, which ranks eighth in school history. The junior placed third in the discus later in the day with a heave of 167-10, meaning he was a first-team all-WAC selection in two events.
The top three performers in each event earn first-team all-league honors, while those who place fourth-sixth are named to the second team. During the four-day meet, the Aggies had 20 first-team honorees and 17 second-teamers.
“Bryce has got a lot of talent and we’ve all known that, but he’s had some injury problems, and he finally overcame all of that and had great performances (at this meet),” Gensel said. “... What a meet to have your best performances at.”
For the second straight day, USU’s Kyle McKenna captured a silver medal in an individual event — this time in the 5,000, where he crossed the finish line in 14:52.
The Aggies had several bronze medalists Saturday, including Skyler Duke in the high jump (three-plus-inch PR of 6-10.25), Eric Shellhorn in the 1,500 (3:57.09) and Cole Lambourne in the 400 (47.13). Kaylee Hartshorn placed third for the USU women with her mark of 139-4 in the javelin.
Gensel was particularly pleased with Lambourne, who PRed by more than half a second. Gensel also praised Russell’s fourth-place effort in the 800. Russell only had the WAC’s 17th-best time heading into the meet.
“To run a 47.13 as a freshman is pretty awesome,” Gensel said of Lambourne. “... He is such a great kid to work with, and Spencer Russell is the same way. Just everything we ask him to do, he does, and no one could be happier than us for the way they performed.”
Another Aggie who shined was Will Henry, who placed fourth in a loaded 100 field. Henry’s time of 11.41 ties for third in USU history, and he missed the silver medalist by a measly two-hunderedths of a second.
Former Logan standout Laycee Elliott placed sixth in the 400 hurdles — one spot behind USU teammate Kylie Hirschi — with a time of 1:02.81.