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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Samantha Thomas fought off BYU to anchor the Stanford 4x400-meter relay team on Saturday night to a berth in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

With that, Stanford closed out the NCAA West Prelims on a high note with qualifiers in the final two events – the 5,000 and 4x400 relay. At the four-day meet at John McDonnell Field at the University of Arkansas, Stanford advanced six individuals – five women and one man -- and one relay team to the NCAA meet June 5-8 in Eugene, Oregon. 

The five women's individual qualifiers are all freshmen or sophomores. Four qualifiers emerged from Saturday's action alone: sophomores Juliette Whittaker and Roisin Willis in the 800, and freshmen Amy Bunnage and Sophia Kennedy in the 5,000. Sophomore long jumper Alyssa Jones qualified on Thursday. 

The women's 4x400 relay team was Maya Valmon, Willis, Whittaker, and Samantha Thomas. Ky Robinson was the lone Stanford men's qualifier, advancing in the 5,000 on Friday.

Of all the qualifiers, perhaps the most stunning performance came from Kennedy. Seeded No. 17 in a meet in which only 12 qualifiers would emerge, Kennedy won her 24-runner heat, with Bunnage in third. Only the top five in that heat earned automatic qualification for Eugene. 

Bunnage led for much of the race while Kennedy maintained a spot in the lead pack, even as it dwindled from 10, to six, and then split apart completely. Kennedy did not lead until the final lap, passing Oklahoma State's Taylor Roe and finishing the race with a 1:10.60 split for the final 400, by far the fastest final lap of any competitor. 

Kennedy, who nearly fell late in the race when her spike appeared to get stuck in the track, finished in 15:53.49, the meet's fastest time, and Bunnage was seventh overall in 15:59.53.

Willis and Whittaker recorded the fastest times of the meet in the 800, with each winning their heats. Willis, who was pressed to the end, won Heat 3 in 2:01.04. And Whittaker, who had little competition, won Heat 2 in 2:01.05. 

This will be the first NCAA Outdoor Championships as an individual for Whittaker. She competed in Austin, Texas, in the 4x400 last year, but failed to qualify in the 1,500. She is the 2024 NCAA indoor 800 champion and Willis won the 2023 NCAA indoor title and was fourth outdoors. 

In the 4x400, Stanford was eighth after the first leg and was fifth after Willis' 52.13 second leg. Whittaker blazed to 51.80 split to hand the baton off to Thomas in third. Though BYU pushed for the lead on the backstretch, Thomas held her off and extended her advantage down the stretch as she finished a 52.79 split.

Stanford's time of 3:32.51 was the ninth-fastest in school history. The Cardinal advanced to nationals in the women's 4x400 for the second consecutive season outdoors and into its fourth consecutive NCAA championship meet including indoors. 

 

Stanford's 4x400 relay team: Maya Valmon, Roisin Willis, Juliette Whittaker, Samantha Thomas. 

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NCAA West Prelims
At John McDonnell Field
Stanford's Saturday results

Women

800 – 1, Roisin Willis 2:01.04; 2, Juliette Whittaker 2:01.05. Willis and Whittaker advance to the NCAA Championships.
5,000 – 1, Sophia Kennedy 15:53.49; 7, Amy Bunnage 15:59.53; 22, Lucy Jenks 16:34.08. Kennedy and Bunnage advance to NCAA Championships.
400 hurdles – 15, Samantha Thomas 57.81.
3,000 steeplechase – 31, Riley Stewart 10:46.22.
4x100 relay – 20, Stanford (Tess Stapleton, Maya Valmon, Teagan Zwaanstra, Alyssa Jones) 44.55. 
4x400 relay – 9, Stanford (Maya Valmon, Roisin Willis, Juliette Whittaker, Samantha Thomas) 3:32.51 (No. 9 Stanford AT). Stanford advances to NCAA Championships.
Triple jump – Alaysia Oakes NM.  
Discus – 42, Brandy Atuatasi 161-3 (49.16m); 45, Kaiah Fisher 152-11 (46.60m).