IRVINE, Calif. -- No surprises here, just everyone doing what was expected of them. And still, it was pretty good.
Azusa Pacific enjoyed a fine opening meet to the 2010 season with both the men’s and women’s teams validating their respective NAIA preseason rankings at the UC Irvine Invitational Saturday morning. The Cougar men, ranked 23rd in the nation, finished seventh in the 19-team field with an average per-man time of 26:12. The women, who are ranked No. 4 in the NAIA, finished second among 10 teams with an 18:05 average.
“We ran about how I expected us to,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Preston Grey. “We ran to what we had been doing in our workouts. Overall, we completed well.”
In their first appearance at the UCI meet in 5 years, the Cougar women proved they belonged in the elite field, beating several NCAA Division I teams, including USC, Pepperdine, Fresno State and host UC Irvine. Sophomore All-American Poppy Lawman led the Cougar contingent by breaking away from the lead pack over the final half-mile to finish second with a career-best 5K effort of 17:22, more than a 20-second personal best and the third best time in Azusa Pacific history.
“At like 2.5 miles I was wondering if I could do this, stay at the front, and then I realized no one was picking it up and we were close to the end, so I said, ‘okay, I’ll pick it up,’” said a smiling Popman. “I should have started my kick sooner, but I was so nervous about what I could do. But it’s going to be an awesome season, I think I’m going to hit all my goals.”
Fellow All-American junior Lauren Jimison, who has been logging 80-mile workouts a week the past 8 weeks, finished eighth with a fine season-opening time of 17:37. Just off the Jimison pace was senior Victoria Martinez, clocking an 18:01 to come in 11th.
“Lauren has been a little dead in practice because of her 80-mile workouts, so I expected her not to be sharp today and she wasn’t,” said Grey, “but all things considered, that was a sold race for her. “
In her collegiate debut, freshman Melissa Telon validated the expectation place on her coming out of high school by finishing 15th in the 122-runner field with an 18:11, a better career-opening effort than those of past Cougar greats Jaime Canterbury, the 2008 NAIA champion, and Breanna Carstensen, a 3-time NAIA All-American (2001-04).
Senior Kayla Carstensen rounded out the Cougars’ scoring contingent with a 19:14, good for 51st overall. Kayla’s younger sister, Dianda Carstensen put together a fine collegiate debut run with a 19:44 to finish 67th while sophomore Megan Knippenberg was a pleasant surprise at 71st with a 19:51.
Cal Poly, paced by individual winner Kayleigh Tyerman (17:13), won the women’s race with a meet-low 42 points. The Cougars were second at 80, and more importantly they knocked off the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cal State San Marcos, which finished third with 107 points. Azusa Pacific’s top 3 runners – Lawman, Jimison, and Martinez – all ran ahead of Cal State’s No. 1 runner.
On the men’s side, 3-time NAIA All-American Abednego Magut finished third in the 238-man competition, running a 24:53 over the 8K course, more than a 10-second improvement over his last year’s season-opening effort at Cal State Fullerton.
Heralded freshman Wade Meddles, last year’s Footlocker high school national third-place finisher, ran in front over the first 2 miles of the race before tailing off and finishing ninth with a 25:22 in his first-ever 8K run.
“Wade showed his inexperience today, kind of welcome-to-college moment,” said Grey. “He just went out too fast, got too excited. You can’t do that against this caliber of a field.”
Senior J.J. Timphony was the Cougars’ No. 3 runner, coming in 29th with a 26:05, the third fastest 8K of his college career.
In one of the finest showings of his career, junior Spencer Winston was 96th with a 27:13, and freshman Paul Castro rounded out the Cougar scoring 5 with a 27:15 to finish 100th in his first-ever college meet.
UC Irvine won the men’s competition with 76 points. The Cougars, who finished with 175, were sandwiched by sixth-place UC San Diego (163) and eighth-place Fresno State (188).