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Steady as She Goes

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March 3, 2011
Gary Pine

GENEVA, Ohio -- The first day of any NAIA track & field championship meet is about keeping it steady, competing well, moving along and setting yourself up for big-point performances later in the meet. Azusa Pacific met the goal on both sides of the ledger today at the 46th Annual NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championships at the GaREAT Sports Complex in Geneva, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland.

The Cougars showed well in the distances, were steady in the relays, and competed in the multi-events. As Azusa Pacific Men’s Head Coach Kevin Reid summarized, “It was good overall first day for everyone.”

Sophomore All-American Breanna Leslie highlighted the first-day performances and got the Cougar women on the scoreboard first by finishing third in the pentathlon with a career-high 3,626 points, the second-best score in school history. Leslie posted career-best marks in 3 of the 5 events, registering a 5’ 3” clearance in the high jump, a 17’ 9” leap in the long jump, a time of 2:20.73 in the 800-meters. In addition, though it wasn’t a personal record, she clocked a very fine 8.85 in the 60-meter hurdles.

Senior Natasha Miller of Biola University won her third straight pentathlon crown with an NAIA-record 4,032 points and in the process seemingly handed the pentathlon baton to her Golden State Athletic Conference mate Leslie, who is likely to be the NAIA’s best pentathlete next year after Miller departs the collegiate scene. Senior Sarah Skipper of Jamestown College (N.D.) used a slight advantage in the long jump to edge Leslie for the overall second place finish with 3,644 points.

Cougar freshman Megan Vanwinkle and junior Emily Nash also performed well in the pentathlon, tallying 3,382 and 3,317 points respectively. Vanwinkle finish seventh in the 16-athlete field, and Nash was tenth.

The pentathlon was the only event finals during Thursday’s competition. The men’s heptathlon has completed the first of its 2-day competition, and defending national champion Casey Stevick is currently second with 2,999 points, just 20 points behind first-day leader Robbie Haynie of Eastern Oregon University. Stevick recorded personal records in the long jump (22’ 7”) and shot put (45’ 0 1/2") along with a season-best time in the 60-meters (7.22) to put himself in contention for the NAIA crown. Seniors Jordan Savidge and Jeff Altizer are poised for All-America finishes as well.

“All 3 heptathletes really did well for the first day,” added Reid. “All of them are on an All-America pace, and it’ll an interesting battle for Casey to win the individual title.”

Other than the women’s 4x400-meter relay, both the Cougar men and women advanced the expected runners through the Thursday’s preliminary races. Defending national champion Lauren Jimison posted the fastest time in the 5000-meters with a 17:21.79, and though she didn’t advance to the finals, freshman Melissa Telon ran a career-best 18:05.05.

“That was probably fastest 5K prelim in NAIA history,” said Azusa Pacific Women’s Head Coach Mike Barnett.

Indeed, Barnett may be right. Seven different runners clocked a sub 17:40. Just 1 runner reached such a time in last year’s NAIA prelims.

Led by a trio of freshmen, the Cougar women’s 4x800-meter relay moved into the finals, and the men’s and women’s distance medley relays are onto the finals as well after clocking some rather impressive prelim times. The Cougar men topped all 19 relays with a season-best performance of 10:01.85. Cross country All-Americans Abednego Magut and Wade Meddles bookended the legs. The Cougar women also topped the preliminary efforts with a 12:01.15, the sixth fastest time in school history.

“It was a great first day for our runners,” said Cougar distance coach Preston Grey. “It was the fastest prelims across the board I’ve ever seen at an NAIA meet.”

The women’s 4x400 was shut down before it could ever start. With Leslie and Nash, who were expected to run legs on the relay, also in the midst of the heptathlon competition, they ran into race conflicts between the 2 events, and Barnett opted to pull the 4x400.

“Breanna and Emily would have had to run a 400 and turn right around and run the 800 of the heptathlon,” said Barnett. “It would not have been fair to their heptathlon aspirations to ask them to run so much in such a short amount of time against better-rested competitors. It’s unfortunate the timing did not work out better.”

Azusa Pacific returns to the GaREAT Sports Complex Friday morning for the completion of the men’s heptathlon. Ten event finals are also on tap for Friday’s schedule, including the women’s weight throw where Cougar junior Kat Luna will make her NAIA championship meet debut.