MARION, Ind. -- Azusa Pacific went a little sideways Thursday on the first day of the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, but the Cougars are not out of control. The can recover.
The first finals on the track – the men’s and women’s 10,000 meters – did not go the way the Cougars had anticipated Thursday evening. Instead of the Cougar women jumping into the early lead of the meet with 18 points, they had to settle for 12. And the Cougar men were shut out in the 10,000 after hoping to score something, anything.
“We took a hit today,” said Cougar women’s coach Mike Barnett, “but it’s early and there are still plenty of events ahead in which we can rally.”
Sophomore Lauren Jimison led the Cougar women in the 10,000, running near the front the entire 25-lap race, finishing with a 36:24.88 to become only the third Cougar ever to capture All-America status in the 10,000. Defending champion Jacky Kipwambok, who ran side-by-side with Jimison for the first 18 laps of the race, fell off the pace and finished fifth at 36:42.40.
However, the Cougar women, who were the likely favorite to win the team title heading into the meet, do have some potential make-up points, particularly in senior All-American Tiffeny Parker, who is competing well in the heptathlon and the high hurdles.
In the heptathlon, the Cougars are ahead of their projected pace after the first day of competition. Through 4 events, defending champion Natasha Miller of Biola has the lead at 3,280 points, but Parker is a close second with 3,163, using a first-day closing personal-record (PR) in the 200-meters (25.60) to stay within a manageable 117-point reach of Miller. Though none of them were personal season-best marks, Parker’s performances in the 100-meter hurdles (14.27), high jump (5’ 4½”) and shot put (37’ 3”) were solid showings.
Freshman Breanna Leslie is currently fourth with 3,024 points. She set the tone for what could prove to be the finest meet of her career when she ran a personal-record 14.27 in the 100-meter hurdles to start the heptathlon.
In addition, both Parker and Leslie moved on to the semis of the open 100-meter hurdles with outstanding times, including a personal-record 14.03 for Parker in her prelim which came in the middle of her heptathlon competition.
In other encouraging performances for the Cougar women, freshman Poppy Lawman and junior Victoria Martinez advanced to the finals of the 1500-meters, Lawman winning her heat (4:37.61) and Martinez finishing third (personal-record 4:37.97) in a very strong opening heat.
In the sprints, junior Mandy Ross moved on to the semifinals of the women’s 100- and 200-meters, running a heating-winning 11.74, which came on the heels of a cautionary yellow issued to her on the first gun forcing her to be tentative in the second attempt. As she did in the 100, Ross clocked a season PR in the 200 with a 24.35.
The Cougar men failed to score on opening day of competition. Sophomore Abednego Magut, who came into the meet with the second-best time in the 10,000, was unable to overcome the pain of a broken bone in his right foot, suffered 3 weeks ago at the Occidental Invitational. The cross country and track All-American gave a valiant effort, falling to the back of the 33-man field before slowly picking off several runners and moving into 13th place. However, the pain in his foot became too great and he could not sustain his comeback, eventually finishing 19th (32:44.87).
In other injury-related efforts, sophomore Zach Keene (groin), looked outstanding in today’s prelims and advanced to the semifinals of both the 100- and 200-meters with personal-record times of 10.52 and 21.41.
Senior Anthony Logan (hamstring) was impressive in the opening round of the 400-meters, running a season-best 47.72, the second best time among all of today’s competitors.
In the decathlon, All-American Casey Stevick (groin) battled the heat and humidity and struggled just to get to seventh place after the first day of the decathlon with 3,469 points, about 100 points off his PR best that he set last month.
Friday’s competition begins with the conclusion of the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon before moving into several more preliminary events on the track. However, the finals of the women’s 100-meter hurdles will be run in the late afternoon. In addition, the men’s high jump competition, which will include Azusa Pacific’s Jerry Sommerville, will stage its finals on Friday.