AZUSA, Calif. – On a postcard day in Southern California, Azusa Pacific basked in the sunshine along with over 200 athletes during an “Indoor Qualifier” meet at Cougar Stadium.
The 2-day meet which opened Friday afternoon with a women’s pentathlon and men’s heptathlon continued today with 5 hours of competition in 42 different events, and while a variety of standouts posted fine early-season marks, Azusa Pacific did not take a back seat to any of the visiting performers.
“The weather conditions were perfect,” said Azusa Pacific men’s coach Kevin Reid. “What a day! If anything it was almost too warm, and here we are in the second weekend of February. It turned out to be a great meet all around for the men’s and women’s teams.”
The Cougar distance program started the track season right where it left off an outstanding cross country campaign of last fall. Cougars won the men’s and women’s 3000 meters today along with the women’s 5000 meters and mile run. All-Americans Jackie Kipwambok, Jaime Canterbury, Whitney Jacobsmeyer and Olivia Richert led the way, all posting automatic qualifying marks for the upcoming NAIA Indoor Championship Meet (March 6-8).
Kipwambok and Jacobsmeyer went one-two in the 5000, both posting career-best times. Kipwambok, a sophomore out of Kenya, clocked a winning 17:47.32, the ninth fastest time in Azusa Pacific history, and Jacobsmeyer followed closely behind with her first-ever sub-18, a 17:52.17.
Canterbury, the reigning NAIA cross country champion, easily won the 3000 with a career-best time of 10:14.43, the seventh best time in program history, and some 42 seconds faster today than her nearest competitor.
Meanwhile, Richert, who hadn’t run a competitive mile since her 2005 freshman season, ripped off a 5:08.37 to easily win the event with the fifth best time in program history.
In the shorter races, freshman Mandy Ross made quite a splash in her Cougar debut and showed no signs of year-long injuries that have slowed her since her 2007 senior season at Christian High in El Cajon, Calif. Rather the standout newcomer sent a message that she is at full strength by setting a school record in her first collegiate meet and automatically qualifying for the NAIA Indoor Championships in both the 60- and 200-meter during today’s competition.
Ross was the top collegian in the 60-meters, finishing third with a school-record 7.80 to break Niema Golphin’s former program standard of 7.89 set in 2003. Showing no signs of discomfort, Ross came right back to be the best collegian in the 200, again finishing third with a 25.29, the sixth best 200 in Cougar history.
On the field,4-time All-American Ruthie Wilhelm won both the shot put (44’ 3½”) and the 20-pound weight throw (50’ 3½”), using a season-best effort to take the weight.
Meanwhile the Cougar men put on a show that featured the veterans and newcomers alike, giving reason to believe that Azusa Pacific will once again vie for national titles on the indoor and outdoor circuits.
Six-time All-American James Ferguson battled NAIA champ Paul Castaneda of Concordia University in the shot put in what should be a preview of things to come in 4 weeks at the national championship meet. Castaneda won with a put of 58’ 0½”, but Ferguson was a close second with a season-best 56’ 6¾”. Earlier in the day, Ferguson was the top collegian in the 30-pound weight throw, finishing third with a mark of 50’ 11”.
“To compete against Paul and the way they traded throws, going back and forth like they did, that really sets up well for James in terms of getting him ready for nationals,” said Reid.
On the track, transfer Cliffton Gay shined for Azusa Pacific, qualifying for the NAIA indoor championships in both the 60-meters and 60-meter high hurdles (though he will likely compete in only the hurdles at the national meet). He finished fourth in the 60 meters with a 7.09, and moments earlier blazed an 8.16 to finish second in the high hurdles with the third best time in the NAIA this season.
Fellow transfer Anthony Logan won the 600 meters (1:21.45), and 11-time All-American Caleb Lynch took the 1000 (2:32.07). Both men have reached automatic NAIA qualification in their respective events.
NAIA cross country champion Aron Rono took the 3000 meters in rather easy fashion with an 8:18.28.
Much of the meet was an opportunity for young Cougar heptathletes to showcase their developing skills and in the process perhaps qualify for the NAIA meet . No less than 5 Cougars competed in the 2-day heptathlon, which junior Devyn Wills rallied to win with amazing effort in the seventh and final event – the 1000 meters. Wills clocked a 7-second PR and beat his nearest competitor by 12 seconds with a 2:42.31 to rally and overtake Fresno Pacific’s Anthony Puente for the overall heptathlon victory. Wills scored a personal-best 4,245 points which should allow him to punch a ticket for the NAIAs along with teammates Casey Stevick and David Pichler, who posted high heptathlon scores last week in Boise, Ida.
“They way Devyn went out, I thought he was going to be crawling across the finish line on all fours,” said Reid. “He knew that he needed to run that fast in the 1000 to get a competitive score that could get him back to nationals. I’m really proud of him. That was an impressive performance.”
Freshman Jeff Altizer may have also earned a spot on the NAIA meet roster with his 4,084 points that put him in third place in the heptathlon. Sophomore Steven Hunt is in the chase for a spot at the NAIAs with his 3,863 points.
The young multi-events really did well,” add Reid. “It was in my plans not to do a heptathlon next week after today, but they impressed me with their effort. For most of them, these are new events, but they did a great job, so we’ll come back and do another one next week.”
Azusa Pacific comes back next Saturday (Feb. 16) to host another “indoor” qualifier that begins at 10 a.m. in Cougar Stadium.
“We’ll run through today’s results and figure out what we need to do next week,” said Reid. “All of our expected qualifiers have met their marks. Now we’ll take a look at the list ‘wanna dos’ and the ‘could bes’ to see if there are some unexpected people that maybe we can get qualified for the NAIAs.”