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MARION, Ind. -- It’s been a long career of near wins and heartbreak misses for 9-time All-American Staphon Arnold, the man who pinned his dreams and aspirations on one of track & field’s most aggravating events.
Arnold, a fifth-year senior and the most celebrated high jumper in Azusa Pacific history, had never won an NAIA title in the high jump, a event that can be so graceful in appearance and yet evil in outcome. He came close on several occasions to winning an NAIA high jump competition, frequently finishing in the top 4 to give the Cougars high points in pursuit of a team championship, but all too frequently he walked away frustrated -- an inch, a hair, a fraction shy from what was becoming to seem like an elusive individual crown.
So tonight, in his eighth and final NAIA championship meet, the completion of his long Cougar career, Arnold made the most of the moment, erasing the long lingering memories of near-misses and what-ifs, to ride off into the sunset -- as an NAIA champion. And he didn’t even know it when it happened.
Arnold cleared a season-best 6’ 10 3/4" along with 2 other jumpers, but because he didn’t miss at any of the previous heights, he won the tie-breaker to claim the NAIA crown, but he didn’t know it at the time. It was his father, Brian Arnold, an NAIA champ himself at Azusa Pacific back in 1985, who yelled across the track and over a cheering Cougar contingent who informed Staphon that he had his first NAIA championship in hand, and the first-ever for Azusa Pacific in the high jump.
“I came into this meet with the idea of having fun,” said Arnold. “I was relaxed and loose. I knew it was my last meet, and I wanted to have fun and not feel any pressure. I think that helped in the end. And this is a perfect way to go out. It feels nice.”
Arnold’s performance was the highlight of day 2 at the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championship Meet at Indiana Wesleyan University, but it wasn’t the only great effort by the Cougars.
The Azusa Pacific quartet of Hannah Steer, Diandra Carstensen, Victoria Martinez and Poppy Lawman shattered the school-record in the 4x800-meter relay, clipping off an 8:53.49 to best the former school standard by 6 seconds. Lawman ran anchor and carried the pressure of the record on her shoulders.
“I knew we were in it to get the record but I had to run hard,” said Lawman. “When I came around the final turn and saw the stadium clock in front of me I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but Victoria came up as soon as I cross the finish line and said we got the record.”
The freshman Steer set up the record with a 2:16 on the opening leg, a 3-second PR for the Minnesota native.
Earlier in the day, sophomore Breanna Leslie ripped off a personal-record 14.00 to finish fourth in the 100-meter high hurdles, less than 3 hours after she had run an 800-meters race to conclude the 2-day grueling heptathlon. For the second straight year Leslie finished second in the heptathlon with a score of 4,992 points to pick up her sixth All-American honor in just her sophomore year of competing.
Senior Tiffeny Parker finished seventh in the heptathlon with 4,427 points to add an additional 2 points to the Cougar team tally.
After 2 days and 12 events, the Cougar women are in fourth place with 30 points. Concordia University (Ore.) leads with 38 points. Lindenwood University (Mo.) is second with 37.
On the men’s side, Jeff Altizer capped the best decathlon of his career by finishing fourth with 6,679 points. He closed the competition with plenty still in his tank, clocking a 12-second PR in the 1500-meters with a 4:31.90.
In prelims that set up tomorrow’s finals, junior Kyle Clark advanced to his first-ever NAIA finals, registering a personal-best 52.88 today in his semifinal of the 400-meter hurdles. Junior Lauren Jimison posted the best time in the semifinals of the women’s 5000-meters with a 17:20.58.
As good as the prelims were, the Cougars endured a number of gut-wrenching near misses as well. Despite recording his fifth straight PR, sophomore Slater Ezell missed the finals of the 400 hurdles by .01 of a second, running a 53.06. Junior Zach Keene was odd man out in the 100-meters, running a 10.83 to finish tenth and narrowly miss Saturday’s 9-man finals. Senior Mandy Ross was kept out of the finals of the women’s 100-meters by .02 of a second, registering a 12.21 in today’s semifinals.
The Cougar men are currently seventh with 17 points.
The meet concludes Saturday with numerous event finals that will determine the men’s and women’s 2011 NAIA national champions.