McConnell's late surges lead to first-place finishes at CCAA track and field championships

Courtesy of Diane Ramelli
Kelly McConnell, middle, crosses the finish line in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles. He won the race in a personal-best 52.75 seconds.

Kelly McConnell’s win in the 400-meter hurdles came at a cost – he injured his foot after already suffering from shin splits at the California Collegiate Athletic Association championship meet – yet the junior was determined to anchor Chico State’s 4x400 relay team later that day.

After all, the Los Altos native wasn’t the only member of his relay running hurt.

“We were sore and tired,” said McConnell, whose team was also missing two of the runners who helped it land the second seed in the race, “and our goal as a team was to just try and go for the podium and maybe place third but mostly have fun.”

The Wildcats not only had fun – they won, thanks largely to McConnell’s furious finish. In second place and trailing by approximately 10 meters when he took the baton, the Los Altos High grad surged ahead of Stanislaus State’s Noveleen Thiara before the halfway mark.

“On the back stretch, Noveleen drifted slightly to the outside of lane 1, right before the turn, and I take the advantage to pass him on the inside lane and move forward to first,” McConnell said. “After that, I knew all I had to do was finish strong and don’t let Jared (Senese of UC San Diego) pass me, since I knew he would be hot on my heels. I managed to stay ahead of Jared and bring home the gold for our team.”

McConnell won by nearly 5 meters, teaming with Willie Latin, Derek Morton and Michael Good to run the race in 3 minutes, 15.90 seconds.

“In all, it was a combined effort, and everyone made the moves where they needed and it was an extremely successful way to end the weekend,” McConnell said of the May 6 race.

Earlier in the day on the Chico track, he took top honors in the 400 hurdles with a similar surge down the stretch. Facing what he described as “intense competition,” the second-seeded McConnell took the lead with two hurdles remaining and won by approximately 5 meters. He finished in a personal-best 52.75, placing him sixth all-time at Chico and 21st in the nation this season.

Unfortunately for McConnell, only the top 20 advanced to the NCAA nationals this year. He missed the mark by 0.05 seconds.

A few weeks later, however, McConnell was recognized by a national organization. The College Sports Information Directors of America named him to the 2016-17 Track & Field/Cross Country Academic All-District Team for his combined athletic and academic performances. McConnell, 21, is working toward a degree in exercise physiology.

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