JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Azusa Pacific head coach Kevin Reid quietly admitted in pre-meet talk that he didn’t think his team had enough firepower this year to keep its string of national championships intact. He said someone would have to step up if his Cougars were to overcome a powerful team from Wayland Baptist University.
Well someone indeed stepped up.
Sophomore sprinter Zach Keene finished second in both the 60- and 200-meter dashes to score 16 points and lead Azusa Pacific to its fourth consecutive NAIA indoor track & field championship. The Cougars beat Wayland Baptist, 71-56, and it was Keen’s surprising performances that proved to be the difference.
“This is truly a team championship because everybody had a part in this title,” said Reid, “but Zach was the difference.”
A sophomore out of Bothell, Wash., where he was a state high school sprint champ 2 years ago, Keene entered this weekend’s NAIA championship on the campus of East Tennessee State University with the NAIA’s eighth best 60 time this season and the 20th best 200. Yet with the bright lights shining on the biggest stage on which he has competed, Keene had no problem stepping up. He blazed a 6.80 in the 60 and a career-best 21.52 to finish as the NAIA runner-up in both events and collect 8 points for each of his second-place showings.
“Zach was big time today,” added Reid. “This was the first 200 he has ever run indoor. All his out 200s were outdoors on big tracks, but he had no problem running on a tighter and more crowded track that included 2 turns. Both times and finishes are pretty amazing considering the field he was running against.”
Keene’s races came less than 2 hours apart during Saturday’s final day of competition and by the time he crossed the finish line of the 200, Azusa Pacific had assumed a commanding 24-point lead, 66-32, over a struggling Wayland Baptist.
The Cougars rolled to a big lead during Friday’s competition when Casey Stevick, Jeff Altizer and Staphon Arnold went 1-2-3 in the heptathlon to give Azusa Pacific 24 points and a rare sweep. For Azusa Pacific, which has one of the nation’s strongest reputations in multi-events, it was its most dominant showing ever in the heptathlon. Stevick captured his first-ever NAIA individual title by scoring 5,111 points. Altizer was second with a personal-record 4,956 points, of with 834 came from a career-best effort in the pole vault (15’ 7”). Arnold finished with 4,864 points.
His first NAIA title of any kind, Stevick’s crowning in the heptathlon was the Cougars’ only individual victory of the meet. They used a balanced and strong showing to collect their championship points.
Senior Montrail Brooks finished second in the 600-meters with a personal-record 1:19.65, the fifth fastest time in program history. Likewise sophomore Abednego Magut was second in the 5000-meters with another personal record at 14:38.83. Senior Anthony Logan was third in the 400 meters (48.85). Shortly after he finished the heptathlon, Arnold competed in the open high jump, and despite fighting fatigue, he still managed a very fine leap of 6’ 11 ¾” to finish fourth. Senior Jordan Savidge was fourth in the pole vault with a season-best leap of 16’ 4 ¾”. Senior Monti Sutton repeated his All-America effort in the triple jump by finishing sixth at 49’ 6 ½”.
Azusa Pacific has won the NAIA indoor crown 7 of the past 9 years and becomes only the third school ever to win 4 straight indoor championship titles, joining Jackson State University (1975-79) and Wayland Baptist (1985-89). The championship is Azusa Pacific’s record 23rd NAIA title in men’s track & field (outdoor and indoor).
Reid, who has been the head coach for all 8 indoor titles and 4 outdoor championships, was again named the NAIA Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year.
The Cougar women finished fourth in a tight race for the national championship. Just 9 points separated the top 4 teams. Oklahoma Baptist University won its third NAIA crown in the past 6 years, scoring 68 points to narrowly edge conference rival and 2-time defending national champ Wayland Baptist which had 67 points. Simon Fraser University (B.C.) was third with 66.
Azusa Pacific picked up a pair of event victories, first in the 3000-meters where Jacky Kipwambok claimed her first-ever NAIA individual indoor title with a 9:45.72. Sophomore Lauren Jimison shocked the field by taking the 5000-meters with a 17:15.13, beating her nearest competitor by more than 12 seconds while posting a 6-second PR.
Freshman Poppy Lawman collected her first NAIA All-America honor with a third-place showing in the 1000-meters with a 2:54.51. Junior Kayla Carstensen was on Lawman’s heels with a 2:57.21 to finish sixth and pick up another All-America certificate.
Other All-America performances were registered by senior Tiffeny Parker in the 60-meter hurdles (8.69) and pentathlon (3,528 points), sophomore Briana Leslie in the pentathlon (3,451) as well, along the quartets of Abbie Newlin, Becca Reyes, Carstensen and Lawman in the 4x800-meter relay (9:11.59), and Carstsensen, Mandy Ross, Lawman and Kipwambok in the distance medley relay (11:59.30).