MARION, Ind. -- Azusa Pacific got a little, gave a little, and in between did what it had to.
As a result of Friday’s ups and downs and met expectations, the Cougars lead the NAIA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championship Meet after 2 days of competition and head into Saturday’s final round poised to garner another national championship, potentially its fourth in 8 years.
Azusa Pacific has 32 points through 12 events and holds a slight advantage over second-place Lindenwood University (Mo.) and its 26 points. Defending champion Wayland Baptist University (Texas) is currently third with 23 points.
Freshman Breanna Leslie highlighted the Cougars’ day with an explosive second-day performance in the heptathlon to finish second in the overall competition with a stunning tally of 5,110 points, the second-best score in Azusa Pacific history and more than 300 points better than her prior personal-record.
“We knew this was in her, but we didn’t expect to see these kinds of scores from Breanna until next year,” said Azusa Pacific women’s head coach Mike Barnett. “I am absolutely amazed at what she did in the heptathlon.”
Leslie, who opened the day in fourth place, began her quest to become only the fourth Cougar ever to eclipse 5,000 points with a surprising performance in the long jump in which she PRd by more than 8 inches with a leap of 18’ 3¼” on her final attempt.
“That came out of nowhere,” said Leslie who opened the heptathlon yesterday with a PR of 14.23 in the 100-meter hurdles. “I felt good in yesterday’s warm-ups in the hurdles, but there was nothing in today’s long jump warm-ups to indicate I’d do this. This long jump was totally random.”
Leslie went 16’ 8¼” on her first 2 attempts but when she fell to fifth heading into her final jump she felt she had to “go for it” and she did. Her success in the long jump fed her momentum through the rest of the day, and she followed with a solid throw in the javelin (111’ 1”) and then capped the day with a 3-second PR in the 800-meters (2:20.53).
“I thought I would come into this meet and PR by maybe 20 or 50 points over my previous score (4,781),” said Leslie. “I was just hoping to be an All-American (finish sixth). I wasn’t thinking point totals, especially heading into the 800. I was thinking of actually running the first lap and not cutting myself short because I’m pretty good at doing that in the 800.”
Only Zora Golcevska when she won the 2008 NAIA heptathlon with 5,205 points has scored more heptathlon points in a Cougar uniform than what Leslie did today.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said Leslie, even several hours after the heptathlon ended. “Really, it doesn’t feel like I did it. It feels likes a combination of my coaches, athletic trainers, teammates and parents did this with me.”
Close on Leslie’s heels, teammate and All-American Tiffeny Parker also exceeded 5,000 points in the heptathlon for the first time ever, tallying 5,028 points to finish third overall. The Leslie-Parker duo, which was predicted to give Azusa Pacific 11 points toward the team crown, instead registered 14 points with the 2-3 finish, and in the process gave Azusa Pacific its first-ever pair of 5,000-point heptathletes on the same team.
However, what they provided the team in extra points through the heptathlon, they gave right back by neither advancing through the semifinals of the 100-meters. In their defense, they had to run the hurdles race less than hour after completing the grueling 800-meters of the heptathlon in high heat and heavy humidity.
Still the Cougars marched on, and junior Mandy Ross picked up some of the points lost in the hurdles with a sterling effort in the 100 meters, where she continued the theme of the day with her own personal-record effort of 11.86 to finish third.
The Cougar women then closed out Friday with Jacky Kipwambok, Renee Graham and Lauren Jimison all advancing through the semifinals of the 5,000-meters, a fair accomplishment in light of the fact that all 3 athletes ran in last night’s 10,000-meter final.
The Cougar men scratched out 6.33 points during Friday’s competition and are currently in 25th place.
Despite battling a hamstring injury the final 5 weeks of the season, junior Casey Stevick repeated as an All-American with a score of 6,807 points in the decathlon to finish fourth.
“I’ve spent most of my time lately in the athletic training room,” said Stevick, “and it showed today. I wasn’t as technical as I needed to be in my events, and those events that require explosiveness, I just wasn’t able to provide as much as I would have liked.”
Sophomore Zach Keene picked up another point with a seventh-place finish in the 100-meters, clocking a 10.62.
Junior Jerry Sommerville got a third of a point, tying for eighth in the high jump with a clearance of 6’7”.
All-American Abenego Magut was pulled from today’s 5000-meters with a foot injury that severely hampered his running in last night’s 10,000-meters.
Saturday’s docket includes the finals of the women’s 1500 with Azusa Pacific’s Poppy Lawman and Victoria Martinez. The aforementioned trio of Kipwambok, Jimison and Graham will run in the finals of the 5000 meters. Ross will run another sprint final, this time in the 200 meters, and freshman Lauren Orris will make her NAIA championship debut in the discus.
Men’s finals include defending champions Monti Sutton in the triple jump and Jordan Savidge in the pole vault. All-American Anthony Logan will run in the 400 meters, and Keene will return to the sprints in the 200 meters.
Click here to follow all of Saturday action via real-time results and live video steaming.