LINCOLN — When Kadecia Baird broke the meet record in the 200 meters during the Nebraska track and field intrasquad meet, the freshman sprinter knew expectations for her would be high.
But in Baird’s first official race as a Husker, she pushed past them and then some. Baird, a former prep national champion from Brooklyn, N.Y., blew away the field in the women’s 200 Saturday at the Holiday Inn Invitational at the Devaney Center, winning with a time of 23.70 — a personal indoor best and the fifth-fastest mark in school history.
“I thought the time was a real good time, but it was more impressive who she beat,” Nebraska coach Gary Pepin said. “She’s really a talented young lady, so no, that wasn’t a gigantic surprise to me.”
Baird pulled away from Olympian Diamond Dixon of Kansas down the stretch, finishing in front by .52 seconds. Dixon, a member of the United States’ gold-medal winning 4x400-meter relay team at the 2012 London Olympics, also was the 2012 NCAA indoor champion in the 400.
“I saw her run a couple of times on TV when I would watch the NCAAs,” Baird said of Dixon. “She ran the 400, and when I saw her coming in today I thought ‘Oh my God, I have to run against Diamond Dixon. I’m only a freshman.’ It wasn’t one of my smoothest races, but I was pretty happy with the time.”
What might be frightening for rival sprinters is that the 200 isn’t even Baird’s signature event. She had the best junior time in the country in the 400 last year and plans to run that event at Nebraska, though she didn’t compete in the 400 Saturday.
“I think she’s got a great big upside in both events,” Pepin said. “What her future might be in the 200, that’s yet to be seen until you’ve seen how many races she’s run and done well in.”
Baird wasn’t the only sprinter turning heads for Nebraska in her first meet as a Husker. Junior Chantal Duncan, a former junior college national champion in the 600 from Iowa Central, won the 400 in 55.14, edging teammate Mara Weekes by .05 seconds.
“For the last 150, I just tried to excel, and that’s what I did,” said Duncan, who is originally from Jamaica. “It worked out pretty well.”
On the men’s side, Levi Gipson was the collegiate winner in the men’s 600 meters in a time of 1:17.65, though he finished second to former Big Ten champion Erik Sowinski, who ran for Iowa in college and now competes professionally for Nike. Sowinski finished in 1:16.55.
Gipson, who finished third in the 600 at last year’s Big Ten indoor championships, said competing against Sowinski, the American record-holder, gave a big-time feel to the season’s first meet.
“Erik Sowinski is a really fast runner with all these crazy times. I was just really excited to run against him,” Gipson said. “He’s a really nice guy. He gave me some tips afterward, so that was just sweet running against him.”
Other Saturday highlights for Nebraska:
» Sophomore Christian Sanderfer won the men’s pole vault with a personal-best mark of 17 feet, ¾ inches. Sanderfer, a Lincoln Southwest graduate, finished eighth at the Big Ten indoor championships last season.
» Nebraska swept the men’s and women’s shot put titles. Will Lohman, a transfer from Boise State, had a winning throw of 59-9½ for the men, and junior Carlie Pinkelman of Cozad, Neb., set a personal indoor best in the women’s with a throw of 51-11¾ that beat her previous top mark by more than a foot.
» The men’s 4x400-meter relay team of Gipson, Sanderfer, Jake Bender and Cody Rush won in a time of 3:11.12. Gipson, Sanderfer and Rush were members of the relay team that set the school record at the NCAA indoor championships last year.
» Junior Ellen Dougherty, who redshirted last year because of injuries, was the top collegiate finisher in the women’s 600 with a time of 1:32.88. Dougherty was a four-time Iowa Class 4-A state champion at Sioux City East.
UNO’s Sami Spenner finished fourth Saturday in the 60-meter hurdles. Her time of 8.76 was one-tenth of a second shy of a personal best.