GENEVA, Ohio -- Five years ago she was big-time high school soccer player, about to write her college ticket. Today she is an NAIA track champion and a school-record holder in the mile run. In between, a severe leg injury changed the course of her athletic life, and while it took awhile to comprehend a reason and purpose, she endured, carried on and never quit on the dream of excelling sports. She is a champion in more ways than one.
Senior Victoria Martinez is putting the ribbon on an exemplary career. Today at the 46th Annual NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championships at the GaREAT Sports Complex in Geneva, Ohio, Martinez opened the third and final day of competition by winning the women’s mile in school-record fashion, clocking a 4:53.01 to break Jaime Canterbury’s school-standard of 4:53.65 she recorded when she won the 2009 NAIA crown.
A 5-time NAIA All-American, Martinez showed distance-running potential early at Azusa Pacific, but injuries and illnesses slowed her progress until last year when she began to emerge as a viable force among her teammates and NAIA champs Jacky Kipwambok and Lauren Jimison. This past fall, she collected her first-ever NAIA Cross Country All-America honor, and she continues to excel in track.
In today’s finals Martinez beat her nearest competitor – Erin Curran of Black Hills State University – by more than 2 seconds and in the process recorded the fastest mile at an NAIA championship meet in 15 years. She becomes the seventh Cougar distance runner to win an indoor title.
And she wasn’t done.
Late in the meet Martinez anchored the Cougars’ distance medley relay to a second-place finish and another school record, leading the quartet of herself Kayla Carstensen, Mandy Ross and Poppy Lawman to an 11:45.40, smashing the school-record by a whopping 9 seconds and posting the fourth-fastest time in NAIA history.
Martinez’s effort led Azusa Pacific to a third-place finish in the team standings of the NAIA Championship Meet. The Cougars finished with 56 points. Oklahoma Baptist University defended its title and captured its fourth national crown in the past 7 years, tallying 75 points. Simon Fraser University (B.C.) was second with 58. The Cougars’ GSAC rival, Biola University, was fourth with 40 points.
Lawman, a sophomore out of San Jose, Calif., aided the Cougars’ push up the team scoring ladder Saturday by finishing second in the 1000-meter finals with a personal-record 2:52.23, the second-best time in Azusa Pacific history.
In other Saturday finals, sophomore Breanna Leslie, an All-American in the heptathlon earlier in the meet, showed no signs and being tired and came back today to register yet another school-record, finishing third in the 60-meter hurdles with an 8.65, besting her former school-standard set earlier this year by .02 of a second.
Like Lawman, junior Jimison was the NAIA runner-up in her specialty, finishing second in the 5000-meters with a personal-record 16:53.56.
In about a 2-and-a-half-hour span, Ross added 3 more All-America honors to her career tally, finishing sixth in both the 400- (56.97) and the 200-meters (24.68) to go along with her second-leg effort of the DMR. She now has 11 NAIA All-Americas, the seventh highest total in Azusa Pacific women’s track & field history.
“It was a great day,” said Cougar Women’s Head Coach Mike Barnett. “I’m really proud of the ladies efforts. School records and season-bests marks everywhere. I’m really happy for Victoria, and excited she can enjoy a moment like this in her career.”
As a team, Azusa Pacific has now posted 4 straight top-4 finishes and has been among the top 4 teams in 8 of the past 10 years.
The Cougar men had their string of 4 straight national championships come to an end, tying for fourth place in the team competition with 34 points. Shorter College won its first-ever NAIA championship, scoring just 44 points, the lowest winning total since Jackson State University won the 1973 crown with 43 points. Last year’s runner-up, Wayland Baptist University, was second again with 41 points, while Hastings College (Neb.) was third with 38 points.
Distance runners Wade Meddles and Abednego Magut garnered 12 points for the Cougars, 6 each, during Saturday’s competition. The freshman Meddles finished third in the men’s mile with a 4:12.51, while Magut was third in the 3000-meters with a personal-best 8:31.18.
Junior Zach Keene picked up another 6 points for Azusa Pacific with a third-place showing in the 200-meters, recording a season-best 21.64.
The Cougars scored 19 points on the day, and senior Montrail Brooks rounded out his Cougar career with a sixth-place showing in the 600-meters with a 1:19.98.
“I could not have asked for more from our guys,” said Azusa Pacific Men’s Head Coach Kevin Reid. “Sure we could have scratched out maybe another point here or there, but we had 7 season-bests marks out of our 13 guys. We want them to peak at nationals, and they did.”
Azusa Pacific has posted 11 consecutive NAIA indoor top 4 finishes in the men’s competition.