Track and Field: Shelby represents Vanderbilt well at NCAA Championships, places 17th in 400

The junior’s successful season came to a close Thursday night in the semifinals.

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Taiya Shelby’s season came to a close in the NCAA Championship semifinals. (Twitter/@vandyxctrack).

Kavi Jakes, Sports Copy Editor

Junior Taiya Shelby competed Thursday at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Shelby ran in the 400-meter race semifinals, finishing seventh in her heat and 17th overall with a time of 52.63. She did not qualify for Saturday’s finals, but still posted a strong performance.

“She improved on her seeding and finished just one spot out of being [second-team] All-American,” head coach Steve Keith said. “First time in this environment—I thought she handled herself real well.”

The semifinals were run in three heats, each with eight runners. The top two runners from each heat automatically advanced to the finals and were joined by the three fastest remaining runners from any heat. 

University of Southern California senior Kyra Constantine was the slowest automatic qualifier and ran in the second heat with Shelby. Shelby would have advanced had she bested Constantine’s time of 51.93.

Nevertheless, the SEC will be well-represented in Saturday’s finals. University of Florida junior Taylor Manson (51.04) placed third overall and UF freshman Talitha Diggs (51.45) finished sixth. Meanwhile, Texas A&M freshmen Athing Mu (51.04) and Charokee Young (51.29) placed fourth and fifth. 

The 400 finals qualifiers were headlined by Constantine’s teammates, senior Nicole Yeargin (50.96) and junior Bailey Lear (51.02), who finished first and second. The qualifying list was rounded out by Texas sophomore Stacey Ann Williams (51.75), Duke senior Brittany Aveni (51.92) and Constantine (51.93).

The meet capped an excellent season from Shelby. While building her running strength early in the season, she ran a time of 2:07.85 at the Bulldog Relays to place first in the 800—not her primary event. She continued to improve throughout the season and put on a show at the NCAA East Preliminary. There, she ran a personal-best time of 52.46 in the first round of the 400 before topping her mark with a time of 51.84 in the quarterfinals to advance to Eugene. Shelby’s 400 time stands as the second-fastest in Vanderbilt history.

“I mean, really it’s tough to script out a better season for her,” Keith said. “I think she’s represented us extremely well. I’m so proud of her.”

Because of the pandemic-shortened 2020 outdoor season, Shelby has an extra year of eligibility beyond her senior year. Keith thinks that her time in Eugene will help her continue to improve throughout her Vanderbilt career.

“She’s got two more years of track ahead of her. So, this learning experience will go a long way for her,” Keith said. “We’re super excited about what she can do in the next two years.”