Collin Matiza 

Sports Editor 

ZIMBABWE’S new middle-distance sprint queen Vimbayi Maisvorewa stole the show from fellow Auburn University athletes when she broke the school’s record in the 400m dash during the 2024 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships at Fayetteville in Arkansas, United States, at the weekend.

According to reports from Fayetteville, Maisvorewa, an Auburn junior, broke the school’s record in the women’s 400m dash, while teammate Paula Grauvogel finished second in the women’s pentathlon during the first day of competition at the 2024 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships.

 The Tigers men’s quartet of Max Hardin, LeBron Bessie, Louis O’Loughlin and Ryan Kinnane, fresh off a school record a week ago, also won a silver medal in the men’s distance medley relay.

“We had a few events that we felt could possibly win, but came up a little short but only because it took a great effort by our competitors,” Auburn head coach, Leroy Burrell, told reporters at the weekend. 

“I’m really happy with the way the team competed. We’ve got a couple of big scoring opportunities on the women’s side.”

And one of those big scoring opportunities came from their new “golden girl”, Zimbabwean Maisvorewa, in the women’s 400m dash.

Maisvorewa ran a lifetime-best 52.16 seconds in the 400m to break the previous school record of 52.24 set by Joanna Atkins in 2011. 

The junior college transfer from Zimbabwe finished seventh overall in the preliminary heats to advance to Saturday’s finals, marking the first Auburn University women’s finalist at SEC indoors in the event since 2012.

Graugvogel scored a lifetime best of 4,011 points, the third highest total ever by an Auburn woman as she established new PRs in four of the five events. 

Teammate Elise Heddens was seventh overall and had a tremendous outing over the grueling five-event competition scoring a PR of 3,651 points.

The duo’s performance was highlighted by the final event of the competition, the 800m. Heddens won in a time of 2:23.28, while Grauvogel was third in 2:24.59, both bettering their best times in the 800, including a 10-second improvement from Grauvogel.

“I came here knowing I was fit and in shape,” Grauvogel said. “In order to get a medal, I knew I had to run. I gave all I had and it’s great to see the results. The 4,000-point barrier means a lot. I knew I had to run 2:25, but it feels incredible. It’s insane.”

It marked the first time since 1989 that an Auburn tandem both scored in the pentathlon at SECs with Grauvogel’s second place the best ever by a Tiger at conference indoors.

“Elise did very well. She’s a very confident person and to be with her all the time, it puts a lot of confidence in myself too,” Grauvogel said. “I just ran after her (in the 800). We went from the beginning and the last lap we were still 1-2 so I told myself I was going to finish that last 200 no matter what.”

The Tigers DMR dualled South Carolina for the top spot but were outdistanced by just under a second, closing with a 3:35.06, the third fastest time in school history.  

Hardin ran a strong leadoff leg handing the baton to Bessick in first place. Bessick and O’Louglin kept Auburn in the mix before Kinnane battled two-time SEC mile indoor champion Anass Essayi over the last mile of the race, as the Tiger senior turned in a sub four-minute mile on the anchor leg.

“We were hoping to come out here and get a win, but that was some really tough competition as teams stacked the DMR,” Kinnane said. “Finishing second is pretty good. It was a tough tactical race. 

“Max did a great job to get us out to a lead. Louis and LeBron held it and put me in a good spot. I wish I could have finished it off and got the win, but it was pretty good competition out there so I’m not too upset with it.”

Auburn advanced four runners Friday into Saturday’s finals while a total of 21 personal bests were achieved.

“I’m extremely proud of Paula and Elise (Heddens) and Vimbayi (Maisvorewa) with a school record,” Burrell said. “The DMR gave it a good shot after setting the school record last week. Kanyisola Ajayi, a freshman qualified in the 60 with the second fastest time and Maka advanced in the 200, so we were really happy with that. Kyle (Moison) also picked up some big points in the weight.”

Another Zimbabwean athlete who is on an athletics scholarship at Auburn University, Makanakaishe Charamba, was also in action at the same meet at the weekend. 

In the men’s 200m, junior transfer Charamba qualified for the finals after running a season-best 20.76, good for the eighth and final spot on Saturday.

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