Sophomore pulls away for back-to-back NCAA crowns, leads Illini to ninth place in team chase.
EUGENE, Ore. — Ashley Spencer gave herself a huge early birthday present.
The Illinois sophomore — one day shy of her 20th birthday — defended her NCAA title in the 400 meters, winning by nearly half a second Friday night with a school-record time of 50.28 seconds, the best collegiate time this year.
“I’m really excited,” said Spencer, who added she didn’t notice the gap she had put between her and runner-up Shaunae Miller of Georgia (50.70). “I have tunnel vision. I just really took off running and ran hard and finished hard.”
The question for Spencer is, can she become the first runner since Texas’ Suziann Reid (1996, ’98-99) to win three 400 titles? And what about a four-peat?
“I’m going to try,” Spencer said. “I’m. Going. To. Definitely. Try.”
The Indianapolis native put the celebration on hold, at least temporarily.
“Not done yet,” said Illinois’ first two-time NCAA outdoor champion since Perdita Felicien won the 100 hurdles titles in 2002-03.
Spencer will run today as part of Illinois’ 1,600 relay.
“I’m going to The Cheesecake Factory with my teammates.”
Three other Illini earned All-America honors Friday night.
Junior Samantha Murphy ran fifth in the 800, clocking 2 minutes, 2.10 seconds. LSU’s Natoya Goule won the event in 2:00.06.
Big Ten champion Stephanie Richartz, a junior, tied for sixth in the pole vault, clearing 14 feet, 11/4 inches.
Freshman Morolake Akinosun finished eighth in the 100 in 11.45.
Illinois was tied for ninth heading into the final day of competition.
Welcome to the club
Ashley Spencer joined the short list of multiple NCAA women’s track champions in the outdoor 400 meters:
RUNNER SCHOOL YEARS
Marita Payne Florida State 1982, 1984
Lillie Leatherwood Alabama 1986-87
Suziann Reid Texas 1996, 1998-99
Allison Beckford Rice 2001-02
Ashley Spencer Illinois 2012-13