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Ole Miss’ Raven Saunders eyes rare three-peat at NCAA outdoors

Raven Saunders could soon join some elite company.

Saunders, Ole Miss’ women’s shot putter, is going for her third straight national title at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Oregon’s Hayward Field. Saunders will compete in the finals tonight at 8:40 CT.

Only one other woman has ever gone back-to-back-to-back in the outdoor shot put. Regina Cavanaugh pulled off the feat for Rice from 1985-87.

Thirty years later, Saunders has her eye on ending the drought.

“I’ve been working so hard this season to get back to this point, defend my title and go for as many titles as possible throughout my whole entire career,” Saunders said. “And finally being at this point is just another step in the road. I’m just excited for it.”

Saunders is easily considered the favorite.

Just a junior, Saunders is already a four-time All-American at Ole Miss and a six-time All-American in her collegiate career. Saunders has already swept the Southeastern Conference indoor and outdoor championships and claimed the NCAA indoor title with a personal-best throw of 19.56 meters, breaking her own collegiate record.

It doesn’t mean she’s satisfied.

“At this point, I’m just really trying to get it as far as possible,” she said. “I know what it will take to win and what I want to throw. My goal is to be over a 20-meter shot putter this year and next year.”

Saunders, who finished fifth in her first-ever Olympic shot put last summer, will head to Sacramento, California, later this month to compete in the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.

Full field

Other Ole Miss athletes who will compete in the NCAA outdoor championships are Craig Engels, MJ Erb, Nicole Henderson, Dempsey McGuigan, Shannon Ray, Breanna Tate, Shelby Brown, Janeah Stewart, Deanna Tate and Brian Williams.

Engels, Erb, Henderson, McGuigan, Ray and Breanna Tate are all making their second straight appearance at the outdoor championships. Brown, Stewart, Deanna Tate and Williams are each making their NCAA outdoor debut.

Engels (1,500 meters) and Erb (3,000-meter steeplechase) each advanced to the semifinals in their respective events with top-5 heat finishes Wednesday.