Postseason action is now upon us, as the 2022 SEC Outdoor Championships began Thursday in Oxford, Mississippi. The Florida Gators mens and womens track and field programs entered competition ranked No.3 in the nation, looking to build upon their finish in the 2022 SEC Indoor National Championships.
Seven Gators made the cut for Saturday's finals, including a return performance for heptathlete Anna Hall.
Day one of the three-day event began with the heptathlon. Gator fans will not be seeing a heavy dose of sophomore standout and hepthathlete Anna Hall. Instead, the Highlands Ranch, Colorado, native will only compete in the women's 400 meter Hurdles today, as she is resting after an impressive performance in last week's USATF Combined Championships.
Hall qualified to compete with Team USA this summer in the 2022 World Championships.
Instead, junior Sterling Lester served as the sole representative for the Gators. The Marietta, Georgia, native led the pack through four events, tallying 3,537 points and recording a personal best in the fourth and final event of the day.
Lester got things started with a runner-up placement in the women’s heptathlon 100-meter Hurdles. The former Georgia transfer clocked in at a time of 13.46 seconds as she moved onto the High Jump. Lester needed a personal best of 13.36 seconds to surpass Mississippi State graduate Shayla Broughton, who boasted a time of 3.37 seconds
In the High Jump, Lester cleared and tied her personal best of 1.69 meters/ 5-6.5 and threw 11.32 meters/ 37-1.75 in the Shot Put. Through three events, Lester trailed only MSU-class- Asai Poe heading into the 200 meter, the final event of the day.
The junior left no doubt from the start, shooting out like a rocket from the blocks. Hitting the nitrogen button, Lester ran 23.56 seconds in the 200 meters to score 1,023 points overtaking first place. Lester will head back onto the track Friday for the women's heptathlon Long Jump.
Next up after Lester's eye-opening outing, fans then turned their attention to the women’s 800 meter Prelims, as three Gators athletes competed. Through four heats, the nine fastest runners move on to the Finals Saturday. Junior Imogen Barrett, red-shirt junior Gabrielle Wilkinson and freshman Ashley Klingenberg competed for Florida.
Barrett and Wilkinson recorded the top-two qualifying times, setting a standard for the rest of the competition. Barrett, hailing from Australia, dominated the third heat and cruised to the finish line with a time of 2:04.22 seconds.
Topping that, Wilkinson blazed her way through the track, beating out LSU’s Michaela Rose and Auburn’s Presley Weems, whom also qualified for Finals on Saturday.
One of the Gators did not make the cut. Klingenberg's time of 2:13.45 was not enough to catapult herself into the Finals, but her future at UF still shows promise. A former Lake Brantley high school recruit, competing against top-level athletes as a youngster will benefit her progression in the long run.
The next event for the womens came with a star-studded affair in the 200-meter Prelims. A five heat event that consisted of the likes of Florida’s very own Talitha Diggs, Kentucky-star sprinter Abby Steiner and LSU’s Favour Ofili.
All finished in the top-three, making Saturdays Finals a must-see showcase. Ofili, a junior out of Port Harcourt, Nigeria clocked the fastest time of 22.21 seconds, tearing up the competition. Right behind her, Steiner came in second with 22.38 seconds followed by Diggs crossing the finish line at 22.86 seconds.
For Florida, the final women’s event of the day came down in the 400-meter Hurdles Prelims, as Hall once again showcased her dominance. Lately, it seems every time the former Georgia transfer steps onto the track, there is bound to be a record broken. This time, Hall delivers again.
Breaking her personal best, Hall scorched the opening heat crossing the finish line in 54.91 seconds, earning second place.
Ahead of Hall, Arkansas’ Britton Wilson gained the top spot while running a personal record of 54.23 seconds. Wilson and Hall will battle it out on Saturday for the Final.
Before then, Hall is scheduled to compete in Long Jump tomorrow.
On the men’s side, action began after a rain delay halted all events. The men’s 800-meter Prelims was first to get the crowd back in the swing of things. In five heats, UF trotted out three athletes but a sole survivor was able to advance to the finals.
Freshman Sam Austin earned his second SEC final appearance in his young Florida career. Austin, a mid-distance runner, also became a finalist in the 2022 SEC Indoor Championships
In the star-studded 200-meter, UF’s Joseph Fahnbulleh did not disappoint. The sophomore continues to make great strides this season as he cruised into the finals, clocking in at 20.39; that time tied South Carolina’s Evan Miller for second.
It was not enough to get the top spot, though. Georgia’s star sprinter Mattew Boling took the throne of the fastest time, 20.24 seconds. Between Fahnbulleh and Boling, a 2021 NCAA Outdoor First Team All-American, a rivalry may be brewing.
The two have shared the track once before in a final event. Earlier this year, in the 2022 SEC Indoor Championship a 60-meter Final was on the line. In that time, Boling got the better of the young sophomore as he tied for the SEC 60-meter title. Fahnbulleh finished the race in seventh place.
The final event of the night for Florida came in the men's 400-meter hurdles. Although UF was not able to have no contestants qualify for the Finals, senior Colin Sieffert did hit a personal milestone. With the 12th best time, Sieffert crossed the finish line at 51.08 seconds, 0.69 seconds slower than needed to qualify.
So far, Florida will boast seven runners making an appearance in Saturday’s Final looking to add more as the 2022 SEC Outdoor Championship continues Friday.
Curtis Michaud is a fourth-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications. He specializes in sports and media and would like to continue to provide authentic, thorough, and engaging sport content for all readers. He is an enterprise reporter and lacrosse and track and field writer for The Alligator.