EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Azusa Pacific University added 5 more All-Americans to its record-setting list and both the men’s and women’s teams moved into contention for their respective team titles during the second day of the 3-day NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Ralph Korte Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
The Cougar women, who are trying to defend their national championship of last year, scored 18 more points today and moved into third place with 34 points overall, just 2 behind Concordia University (Ore.) and the University of British Columbia, both of which are tied for the lead with 36 points.
Meanwhile, the Cougar men are tied for fourth with 23 points, tallying 13 today. British Columbia is also on top of the men’s race with 31 points. Oklahoma Baptist University is second with 26, while Concordia is third with 25. Azusa Pacific is tied with Indiana Wesleyan University.
Senior David Pichler paced the Cougar men’s effort today by picking up his sixth individual NAIA All-American honor and his fourth in the decathlon. He finished third in the 10-event competition with a season-high 6,835 points. Combined with Casey Stevick’s eighth-place showing of 6,298 points, the Cougars collected 7 points in the decathlon.
Fellow senior Matt Sparks, hoping to recapture the NAIA championship in the 110-meter high hurdles that he first won in 2006, instead had to settle for third in today’s finals with a 14.32, still garnering his eighth All-America honor.
In women’s finals held Friday, Azusa Pacific was inspired by senior Zora Golcevska’s gutty performance in the heptathlon. Despite suffering a pulled calf muscle in her left leg midway through yesterday’s competition, Golcevska grinded out 4 more event marks, including 3 today, and held on to win the heptathlon with 4,857 points. Golcevska, who had jumped out to a huge overall lead before suffering the injury, led through the first 5 events of the 7-event heptathlon. However, she fell to third following the javelin throw today and needed a strong 800-meter run on a bad leg to rally for the overall victory. Not only did she produce such an effort, Golcevska won the 800 with a 2:23.25 to narrowly beat Rebecca Gustafson of Point Loma Nazarene University by just 22 points in the overall heptathlon point tally.
“I didn’t know what my leg had left but I knew I had to run the race of my life to win the heptathlon,” said Golcevska, who admitted that 24 hours earlier the idea of winning the heptathlon seemed to be a futile thought.
“Usually, I wake up on the second day of the heptathlon thinking about the 800, but today all I thought about was the injury and could I even finish the heptathlon. I got some great treatment from our trainers last night, and God healed me enough to compete today. I went out pretty quick on the first lap and then just ran as hard as I could on the final lap, not knowing where everyone else was or whether or not I had finished far enough ahead to win the heptathlon.”
Golcevska now joins Jennifer Schwartz (1984 and 1985) and Carmen Gage (1994) as the only Cougars ever to win an NAIA heptathlon title, and she becomes the first Cougar ever to sweep the NAIA indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon crowns in the same year.
“Given the circumstances, I think winning the heptathlon might be a little more satisfying,” said Golcevska when asked to compare her school-record setting pentathlon performance at March’s NAIA indoors to the heptathlon crown won over the past 2 days. “Any title is great and a record is good too, but when I heard that I had come back to win the heptathlon today, I cried there on the track. I’ve never been injured before, and I didn’t know how I would respond. I learned something about myself today and this victory is a little more satisfying.
Sophomore Tiffeny Parker clocked a career-best 14.44 to finish fourth in the 100-meter hurdle finals and give Azusa Pacific an extra 4 points.
A day after posting an 8-foot personal record to earn All-America recognition in the hammer, senior Megan Ilertsen came back tonight to register a 3-foot PR in the discus and finish sixth with a toss of 159’ 2”, the fifth-best throw in program history. The performance gave the Cougars 3 more points.
Azusa Pacific’s other point of the day came in the 4x800-meter relay, where it finished eighth with a 9:15.43.
On the men’s side, Aron Rono took another step toward the rare 1500, 5000, 10,000 triple crown distance victory by advancing into the 5000-meter finals with his semifinal victory today. Junior Anthony Logan squeezed into Saturday’s 400-meter finals by taking 1 of 2 available at-large berths during today’s semifinals.
In the 400-meter hurdles, Sparks and senior Jordan Burnette moved into the finals by running times just fast enough to qualify them during the semifinals.
Twenty-four event finals are on the slate for Saturday’s final day of competition. The Cougar men are primed to collect their NAIA-record setting 14th outdoor championship, while the Cougar women are in position to win their fourth outdoor title in the past 6 years.