EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Junior Aron Rono did the expected, he closed the first day of the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville by winning the men’s 10,000 meters, and in the process of his convincing victory -- he clocked a 29:56.18 and beat his nearest competitor by 30 seconds – he became only the second athlete ever to win 3 consecutive NAIA 10,000-meter crowns.
Significant achievements, the time and successive championships, but truthfully they are somewhat secondary to Rono this weekend. He has a bigger goal in mind. He is attempting a never-before-done triple crown – to win collegiate national titles in the 1500-, 5000-, and 10,000-meter runs.
Jewell one is on the crown.
“People are telling me that I have a big weekend ahead of me,” said Rono, “and I guess it is quite a challenge, but I have confidence in me. I wanted to run under 30 minutes tonight, so I feel good that I was able to do that, but I also still feel very strong, like I could run another 10K right now.”
Rono’s victory late Thursday evening gave Azusa Pacific its first points of the meet. Concordia University (Ore.) has grabbed the early lead in the 3-day championship meet with 23 points. Bethel College (Kan.) is second with 13 followed by Azusa Pacific in third place with 10 points.
Rono continues his path toward the triple crown of distance runnning with a 5000 prelim Friday evening, and then goes for the ultimate prizes in the 1500 and 5000 finals during Saturday’s championship afternoon.
“Aron’s victory was expected tonight, but there are a lot of people gunning for him,” said Azusa Pacific men’s coach Kevin Reid. “He’s trying to pull off a pretty amazing triple, and I think coaches are out there figuring out ways where they can stretch him. They know how good he is so they want to make this tougher on him.”
Overall, the Cougar men enjoyed a fine opening day of competition. Senior David Pichler and freshman Casey Stevick are primed to score significant points in the decathlon. They sit third and eighth, respectively, after the first day.
Azusa Pacific has a heavy allotment of potential points to score in 2 hurdles races after NAIA champion Matt Sparks advanced through Thursday’s prelims in both the 110-meter hurdle hurdles and the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. In addition, senior Jordan Burnette and junior Cliffton Gay moved on to join Sparks in Friday’s intermediates semifinals.
“Matt looked good in both of his races, and did just enough to move along without exerting too much,” said Reid. “Burnette continues to look just as strong as he did in the conference meet a few weeks back, and I think it does a lot for Cliffton’s confidence to have him win his heat.”
The only bumps in the Cougar men’s performance on Thursday is that Pichler false-started in his open 110 hurdles race, eliminating his potential points in that race, and junior Forrest Lewton narrowly missed advancing to the steeplechase finals.
The Cougar women got off to a terrific start and exceeded expectations in the meet’s first final when All-American seniors Megan Ilertsen and Ruthie Wilhelm finished third and fifth, respectively, in the women’s hammer throw. Ilertsen fashioned a personal-record effort with a throw of 174’ 5”, the fourth best throw in school history. Wilhelm tallied a mark of 166’ 4”. The duo, which also earned All-America honors in the hammer at last year’s championship meet, gave the Cougars a quick 10 points out of the gate, double what Cougar coach Mike Barnett had expected
“We told coach that we got the ball rolling,” said Ilertsen, “and he replied, ‘No, you kicked it down the hill.’”
Ilertsen was in fourth after the prelims but vaulted into third place on her next to last throw, launching an 8-foot PR on her fifth attempt.
“I have a problem of collapsing my core on my third turn,” said Ilertsen, “but I held strong to the end on that throw. I knew it felt good, but I couldn’t see the distances. It felt easy. You know it’s a good throw when it doesn’t hurt or you’re not tweaked.”
Doane College (Neb.) currently leads the competition with 19 points. The Cougars are second with 16, picking up an additional 6 points with Jacky Kipwambok’s third-place finish in the 10,000 meters (34:41.93)
Azusa Pacific suffered a slight setback when school record holder Zora Golcevska suffered a pulled calf muscle in her left leg during the heptathlon high jump. Her substantial lead dwindled, yet she retained her hold on first place after the first day of competition, tallying 2,941 points to hold a 58-point advantage over second-place Sable Otey of Point Loma Nazarene.
The rest of the women’s competition was spent in the preliminaries where Azusa Pacific advanced all the necessary athletes. The Cougars though were dangerously close to not moving it’s 4x800-meter relay along. Midway through the third heat the Cougars were well behind the pack, however, senior Jenny Landisfashioned an excellent 2:17 on the third leg to put the Cougars back in contention, and All-American Becca Reyes ran down Concordia’s Linsie Michels on the anchor leg to give Azusa Pacific a second-place finish and automatically qualify for Friday’s final with a 9:15.42.
Freshman Mandy Ross easily advanced in the 400 meters, while Reyes punched her ticket for Friday’s 800-meter semifinals.