"I just didn't want to end on that bad note." - Danny Kilrea
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MIRAMAR, Fla. -- Michigan's Jessi Larson and Notre Dame's Danny Kilrea both saw their freshman seasons end in heartbreaking manners this spring, finishing just short of making their first appearances at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Although they reacted quite differently to missing out on the chance to show what they're made of on college's grandest stage, Larson and Kilrea made sure their seasons didn't end on sour notes by extending them further.
The distance runners dominated their events to kick off the first night of the USA Track and Field Junior National Outdoor Championships. Larson punched her ticket to the Pan American Junior Championships in July after winning the women's 5,000 meters while Kilrea took care of business in the 10,000 meters.
"I've always had this dream so to actually do it should be a really fun experience," Larson said.
Both Larson and Kilrea had productive cross-country seasons where they qualified for the NCAA Championships in November, but their performances at the NCAA East Preliminaries in Jacksonville, Florida weren't quite enough.
Larson, a Saline (Michigan) High product, ran 16:26.25 at the University of North Florida and missed a trip to Austin, Texas by one spot.
She viewed the finish as a good start to her career. Coming that close, however, was a bit of a shock.
"It was pretty disappointing but going into the meet I didn't have that high of expectations of qualifying, so I just wanted to go out there and do my best," Larson said. "Coming that close, I was really happy with my performance."
Friday served as a bit of a pick-me-up as she lurked behind the six-person field for the first two miles. She felt good enough make a push with a mile left to finish in 16:47.66 to ahead of Katy (Texas) Cinco Ranch rising junior Heidi Nielson, who will also head to Costa Rica.
Nielson said she plans to compete in the 1,500 on Sunday.
Kilrea was the first true freshman to cross the finish line at the NCAA Cross Country Championships this past fall. His time of 29:55.20 earned All-American honors.
Track season was more of a struggle adjusting to college competition. The two-time Illinois high school state champion in cross country and track finished four spots short of qualifying for the NCAAs.
"Coming off of track season I wasn't too happy with how I finished," Kilrea said. "So, I kind of just wanted to have fun racing again. I thought this would be a good opportunity to do that. The stakes weren't too high, but it was still a competitive meet. I just had a good time racing."
On Friday, Kilrea felt out the first 5,000 meters before he started to move. He set his own pace, finishing in 31:38.85 ahead of Georgia's Nicholas Yanek (31:59.89).
"I just didn't want to end on that bad note," Kilrea said. "Cross country was great but track season I had a tougher time adjusting to collegiate competition. ... It was tough to compete with the big guys. Hopefully, now next season, I'll be a little more mature and can handle it."
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Ole Miss' Benedetto makes key adjustment to win men's hammer throw
Something didn't feel right for Joseph Benedetto in hammer throw warmups. The Ole Miss rising sophomore threw a couple of hooks and decided to change it up.
With a berth in the Pan American Junior Championships on the line, the Middletown (New York) John S. Burke Catholic alum made a championship-winning adjustment, stepping a little further over in the circle to better line up his throws. On his third throw, he tossed 219 feet, 9 inches to win a USA Junior National Championship on Friday.
Benedetto realized his positioning was off late in warmups and used his first two throws to shore it up.
"I was trying to find that feeling," he said. "After the first two, I told myself, 'It's there now.'"
Having transitioned from the 16-pound weight used in college to 13.2-pound junior weight over the last few weeks following the NCAA East regional, Benedetto had no problems. He hit marks of over 212-6 on three of his last four throws.
"With the lighter balls it's really about being more relaxed and patient because they don't require you to be as strong," Benedetto said. "Throwing them as a strong person, it can be rough sometimes because it's an entirely different feeling."
Ohio State rising sophomore Garrett Doyle appeared to be hot on Benedetto's tail with a fifth throw of 212-4 before a foul on his last throw forced him to settle for second. He earned a spot alongside Benedetto to compete in Costa Rica.
"Competing for your country is the pinnacle of this sport," Benedetto said. "There's no hammer in Diamond League so competing for USA, that's as close as you can get to professional."
Cumming (Georgia) West Forsyth graduate Kyle Brown's toss of 199-6 was good enough for a fourth-place finish behind Stanford's Max McKhann (203).
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Pair of Missouri Tigers finish 1-2 in javelin
Ava Curry and Skylar Ciccolini will be pushing each other for the next few years at Missouri.
But this time it was the current Missouri Tiger, Curry, pushing ahead of one of the nation's top javelin throwers on her last toss as she reached back and chucked a 160-4 to edge Ciccolini by two feet.
Curry showed a steady progression over her final four throws knowing Ciccolini's 158 was the mark to beat.
"I knew I could do it," Curry said. "It was just a matter of doing it."
Curry capped her freshman season in Columbia with a 151-2.5 at the NCAA West Preliminary. Her and her future teammate will have plenty of time to bond in Costa Rica.
"I'm super excited to start training with Skylar," Curry said. "We'll be pushing each other which is great because we have a great training group. I'm excited to represent the country with her and I'm excited to be a Tiger together."
Ciccolini went unbeaten in her final season at Lewiston (Pennsylvania) Mifflin County and was coming off a throw of 161 at New Balance Nationals last week.