CLAREMONT, Calif. – Azusa Pacific did more than just cross T’s and dot I’s on its final weekend of qualification for the upcoming NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championship Meet. Rather the Cougars, who were already in good shape for the championship meet, fashioned a terrific weekend of competition to put everything of theirs in proper order for the NAIAs. All that’s left now is a 2-week wait for the championship meet.
Over the course of 3 days and 2 different sites, Azusa Pacific added to its list of qualifiers, improved several of its already outstanding marks, and of course, since it was another weekend, broke more school records in the distance races.
At the 12th Annual Rossi Relays hosted by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, Azusa Pacific’s reigning NAIA cross country champs – juniors Aron Rono and Jaime Canterbury -- continued their dazzling year, each winning their respective 3000-meter races with not only school-record efforts, but also meet-record standards.
Rono, who continually each week proves to be in a class by himself, ran away from the 62-man field to clock a personal-best 8:12.83 in the 3000. He beat his nearest competitor by 29 seconds and in the process broke the meet and stadium records by nearly 6 seconds and bettered his own school record of 8:18.28 originally set 2 weeks ago.
Canterbury won the women’s 3000 with a 9:48.45, breaking the meet record by a hefty 10 seconds and beating Brianna Carstensen’s 2005 school-record of 9:49.68. Canterbury now has 3 school track records (1500, mile, and 3000) along with 5K standard for the cross country program.
As she was last fall at the NAIA cross country championships, teammate Jackie Kipwambok closely followed Canterbury in Claremont with a personal-best 9:55.96, now the third-fastest time in program history, and All-American senior Whitney Jacobsmeyer posted the ninth best 3000 in Azusa Pacific history with a 10:14.94. With their performances, Canterbury and Kipwambok now have the No. 1 and 3 times in the 3000 in the NAIA this year, while Jacobsmeyer’s mark is ninth.
All-American Ruthie Wilhelm again won the shot put (43’ 7”) and 20-pound weight throw (53’ 2¾”), but it was teammate Megan Ilertsen who stole the show in the throws with an automatic-qualifying and personal-record performance in the weight throw -- 50’ 4½”, the seventh best heave in school history. By Ilertsen reaching the NAIA’s automatic standard for the championship meet, Cougar head coach Mike Barnett is afforded more flexibility with his “NAIA provisional” participants, which is likely to be offered to All-American pentathlete Zora Golcevska, who along with the pentathlon, high hurdles and long jump can also now compete in the open high jump at the NAIAs after clearing a personal-best 5’ 3¾” at Claremont, good enough for the “B” standard on the NAIA qualification table.
In a surprising result, Azusa Pacific’s second unit ran a 12:20.67 in the women’s distance medley relay to finish third out of 24 schools and improve upon the first squad’s NAIA-qualifying time set earlier in the season.
In other men’s competition, junior Forest Lewton followed Rono in the 3000 meters with a NAIA-qualifying “B” performance of 8:44.34, a personal best for the Montana native.
Senior James Ferguson won the shot put (55’ 1½”) after posting a personal-record to win the 35-pound weight throw with a heave of 56’ 6”, the seventh best mark in the NAIA this year.
In the 4x400-relay, Cougars Cliffton Gay, Stephon Arnold, Caleb Lynch and Anthony Logan clocked a 3:18.93 to finish third behind USC’s “A” and “B” units and record the seventh-best time in the NAIA this season.
Before the Cougars traveled to Claremont, they spent Thursday and Friday in Irvine, Calif., at Concordia’s “Last Chance Qualifier.” There in south Orange County, the Cougar men appeared to have locked up 2 more spots in the NAIA’s 16-man competition for the heptathlon. Junior Devyn Wills scored a personal-record 4,476 points, using PRs in the 60-meter hurdles (9.13), pole vault (11’ 1¾”), and shot put (40’ 7”) to register the 11th-best score in the NAIA this year.
Freshman Jeff Altizer likely got a bid to the NAIA heptathlon as well with his tally of 4,333 points, which appears to be among the NAIA’s top 12, pending results across the nation from this weekend. The top 16 scores this season qualify for the NAIA heptathlon. Cougars Casey Stevick (4,696) and David Pichler (4,600) already scored heptathlon marks that are among the NAIA’s best this year.
In other notable efforts in Irvine, senior Evan Scott reached the NAIA “B” standard in the weight throw with a personal-best mark of 51’ 4¼”, making him NAIA-championship-meet eligible for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Logan improved his time in the 600 meters with a 1:20.77, and freshman Rocky Richardson automatically qualified for the NAIAs with a 1:21.67 in the 600.
“This was really a great send off for us heading into nationals,” said Azusa Pacific men’s coach Kevin Reid. “The quantity wasn’t great, but the quality of the performances really was, especially when you factor in the rain and cool temperatures all 3 days.”
Azusa Pacific takes next weekend off and then departs for Johnson City, Tenn., and the NAIA Indoor Championships on Monday, March 3. The meet, which is being held in the Minidome on the campus of East Tennessee State University, begins Thursday, March 6, and concludes Saturday, March 8.