MARION, Ind. -- Less than 48 hours after letting one get away, Lauren Jimison got up and got away from the crowd, highlighting the final day of the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships by winning the women’s 5,000-meters race.
Jimison’s performance gave the Cougars an additional 10 points and solidified Azusa Pacific’s fifth-place finish in the national championship meet with 51 counters. Concordia University (Ore.) won its first-ever NAIA crown, tallying 86 points. Oklahoma Baptist University was second with 69.5. Shorter College (Ga.) was third with 63, while Simon Fraser University (B.C.) took fourth with 59 points.
Jimison entered this weekend’s competition with the NAIA’s top time this season in the 10,000-meters. On the opening night of the meet, a cool, wet Thursday evening, she led the 10K for nearly 24 of the 25 laps around the track, but 300 meters from the finish line a pair of runners who were riding on her shoulders much of the race, passed her to steal the apparent victory from Jimison’s hands.
So this time, in Saturday’s 5000 – another event in which she had the NAIA’s leading performance this season – Jimison made the decision to pull away early on, and with 6 laps to go ahw broke from the pack and steadily put distance between her and the rest of the field, determined that no one would have a chance to snake this victory. In the end, she left no doubt that this race was hers, eventually clocking a winning 16:49.97 and beating her nearest competitor by a hefty 150 meters and 20 seconds.
A junior out of Sacramento, Calif., the former Capital Christian standout picked up her third NAIA individual crown, her first on the outdoor circuit. In addition, Jimison became the second Cougar ever to win an NAIA outdoor 5,000 title, joining teammate Jacky Kipwambok who won this same event at the 2009 NAIA meet.
Jimison’s victory was the Cougar women’s only claim on a title in the 24 events. Yet, they had plenty of strong showings throughout the meet. Senior Mandy Ross capped her outstanding 4-year career with her ninth All-America honor, overcoming a tight hamstring to finish sixth in the 200-meters with a 24.33. Ross found herself in ninth and last place coming out of the turn, but down the stretch she put her stride into another gear and picked off 3 runners to collect yet another All-America finish in her final race as a Cougar.
Earlier in the day, sophomore Poppy Lawman finished third in the women’s 1500-meters with a time of 4:31.11 to collect 6 more points toward Azusa Pacific’s team total. It was Lawman’s eighth All-America honor in her brief college career. She was consistent throughout the race, quickly moving into fourth place and holding that spot until the final lap when she moved up. Senior Victoria Martinez was seventh in the same race, running a 4:32.80.
For the 13th consecutive year, the Azusa Pacific women finish in the top 5 of the NAIA outdoor meet, a stretch of consistency equaled by no other school in the nation.
The Cougar men closed out the NAIA meet by finishing in a tie for 13th with 22 points. Shorter rallied over the final few events of the meet to beat Doane College (Neb.) for the national championship. Shorter registered 66 points to Doane’s 59.
Cougar junior Zach Keene was the men’s main attraction on Saturday, first by running a 21.27 in the 200-meter semifinals early in the afternoon before coming back late in the meet to post a 21.28 and finish sixth in the finals, adding yet another All-America certificate to his wall of honor and picking up another 3 points for the Cougar men.
Fellow junior Kyle Clark capped the best meet of his college career by finishing seventh in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles with a 53.02. Earlier in the meet he clocked a personal-best 52.88
Much of the meet was plagued by rain and cool temperatures, and while Saturday began as a perfect weather day for track & field, it didn’t allow the final day competition to get away unscathed. A severe thunderstorm hit the Indiana Wesleyan University campus late in the day with just 2 events remaining – the women’s and men’s 4x400-meter relays. Lightening postponed those events and the closing of the meet for over 4 hours. Around 9 p.m. (EDT), both races were finally staged, putting the cap on the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championship Meet.