- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The inaugural weekend hosting the Kansas Relays at Rock Chalk Park couldn’t have gone much better for the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday.

The Jayhawks, the defending NCAA women’s outdoor champions, received strong performances from both the men’s and women’s team. Kansas won eight of the 20 track events, the women’s long jump, and had two of its graduates win in other events.

For the first time in the 87-year history of the Kansas Relays, the meet was not held at Memorial Stadium, which is also the home of the football team. Instead, the event moved to the brand-new Rock Chalk Park, a $39 million facility that is still partly under construction but will host the Jayhawks’ track and field, softball and women’s soccer teams.

“It’s a great, amazing track,” Kansas senior Diamond Dixon said. “This track is smooth. It’s not an Olympic track, but it’s dang near it.”

Typically, the Relays draw some of the top professional runners in the invitational categories of some of the high-profile races. This year, the only invitational event was the shot put, held in downtown Lawrence on Friday. The Relays organizers wanted to focus on making sure the transition from Memorial Stadium to Rock Chalk Park went smoothly, so most of the invitational events were cut out this year.

Still, some marquee names competed in the collegiate level on Saturday.

Kansas’ Lindsay Vollmer, the defending NCAA champion in the heptathlon, claimed the 100-meter hurdles, while Dixon was part of the wining 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams. Dixon won a gold medal as a member of the 4x400-meter team at the 2012 London Olympics.

Dixon placed second in the 400 meters, getting edged by Kansas graduate Paris Daniels, who was competing unattached.

Although they used to be teammates, the two had never competed head-to-head in the 400 before.

“She’s a great 400 runner and she’s good competition and she helped me run a good time today,” Daniels said. “I really had to fight through it and use a lot of my energy to get through the back straightaway. But once I got off the curve, the wind was able to give me a push and just allowed me to get to the finish line smoothly.”

Another Jayhawk, Michael Stigler, won the 400-meter hurdles in 49.35 seconds, the best time in the NCAA and the fifth-best time in the world this year. Stigler was named the men’s Most Outstanding Performer, while Pine Creek High School’s Ally Watt won the award on the women’s side for winning the girls’ 100-meter dash.

“It’s amazing, but we have to keep working,” Stigler said. “It’s early in the season, so hopefully we get better from here.”

The men’s 400 meters belonged to another former Jayhawk. Kyle Clemons, who ran a 45.60 to win the event earlier this year at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, ran a 46.78 and won by just more than a second Saturday.

In one of the marquee events of the day, the 100 meters, Kansas sophomore Tiana Valentine claimed the women’s title in 11.33 seconds, while Andre De Grasse from Coffeyville Community College won the men’s title with a time of 10.03 seconds.

The blustery afternoon meant the sprints were wind-aided, but De Grasse said he thinks he can run an even better time.

“I ran 9.9 with the wind before, but I think I can do it legally this year,” De Grasse said.

Maurice Mitchell, a 2012 Olympian who was competing for Nike, took the men’s 200-meters in 20.54 seconds, while Destiny Carter from Iowa Central won the women’s 200 meters with a time of 23.24.

“I just worked the curve harder than I did in prelims,” Carter said. “In prelims, I noticed I slowed down on the straightaway so I just maintained that speed and finished.”

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