MARION, Ind. -- Another action-packed day at the 2012 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships produced three more individual national champions for Azusa Pacific, along with several other strong performances that kept both the Cougar men’s and women’s teams near the top of the standings heading into the final day of competition Saturday.
The women’s team enters the final day with a five-point lead over defending NAIA champion Concordia (Ore.), while its 44-point two-day total gives the Cougars a nine-point edge over the meet’s heavy favorite, Oklahoma Baptist. Meanwhile, the Azusa Pacific men finished the day in second place with 44 points, just three points behind Shorter (Ga.).
Both teams navigated through ups and downs on Friday, and both will have only a few opportunities to bolster their point totals. Azusa Pacific is represented in four men’s and four women’s events Saturday, with finals competition slated in 13 men’s and 12 women’s events on the day.
“This has the same feeling as indoors, but the only difference is we don’t have the wheels tomorrow,” Cougar women’s track & field head coach Mike Barnett said. “Oklahoma Baptist and Concordia both look good, at least on paper. We’ll have small numbers tomorrow, but I think we can still get on the podium. We’re happy for the opportunity to score a few more points tomorrow, and overall, we’re extremely proud of the team and what they’ve done the past two days, not to mention the weather they’ve had to endure.”
The Cougars scored a whopping 20 points in the first event of the day, using Breanna Leslie’s 5,308-point national championship effort to lead a trio of top-five finishers in the two-day heptathlon event. Leslie registered 895 of her points in the final event, running the 800 meters in 2:14.82 to close out the seven-event competition. Just minutes later, she stepped back on the track to run her qualifying heat in the 100-meter hurdles, in which she later placed sixth to provide her team with three additional points.
Megan VanWinkle made up quite a bit of ground on eventual runner-up Briana Vander Woude, finishing just 73 points behind Vander Woude with a total of 5,023 points. VanWinkle also pulled double-duty, running along with Leslie in the 4x400 meter relay team that qualified for tomorrow’s finals after she competed and took runner-up with a school-record in last night’s long jump event in addition to the full heptathlon schedule. In Friday’s heptathlon events, VanWinkle took first in the heptathlon long jump (18-feet, 9.25-inch), second in the javelin (126-feet, 4-inches), and third in the 800 meters with a time of 2:24.50.
Emily Nash moved up to finish in the top five, throwing third-farthest in the javelin (118-feet, 5-inches) and finishing fourth in the 800 meters to wrap up her fifth-place finish in the heptathlon. Nash also ran Azusa Pacific’s opening leg in the 4x400 meter relay that qualified for Saturday’s finals. That relay includes all three Cougar heptathletes, and Leslie’s strong anchor leg helped the relay advance with a time of 3:49.77.
“For the heptathlon girls to come out here and run a seasonal best in the 4x400 relay is pretty impressive,” Barnett said. “It shows how bad they really want those points. We’re fortunate to be able to score all over the board, and you can’t expect any more out of them than what they provided today. We just need to keep holding our heads high and go into tomorrow fighting for every point like we did at indoors.”
Two of the Cougars’ three representatives in the women’s 5,000 meters advanced into Saturday’s finals, including senior Lauren Jimison, who spent several laps leading the pack at a slow pace before picking up speed and running away with the field’s fastest time, 17:52.10. In the second heat, Melissa Telon turned in the seventh-fastest semifinals time, 18:24.83, to move on to the finals.
“Anytime you can get on the podium, you’ve got to be happy,” Barnett said. “Unfortunately, we’ve won so often in the past that it makes anything less than first place seem to be a disappointment. Oklahoma Baptist looked really good coming in, they’ve performed well so far this week, and they’ve got a full boat tomorrow. What it will take for us to win is a miracle, and even though a miracle is what happened for us at indoors we’ll take whatever we can get tomorrow.”
For the men, senior Casey Stevick turned in the field’s top marks in the discus and javelin throws, and he finished the event with 6,974 points to claim eight team points with a second-place finish. His performance started a mid-day flurry of action which saw Cedrique Smith and true freshman Remontay McClain claim individual championships in back-to-back events on the track.
“This was definitely a great second day, and we’ve got some pretty good points ahead of us tomorrow,” Azusa Pacific men’s track & field head coach Kevin Reid said. “You just have to sit back and watch. Sometimes you sit back and see if people can catch you, and others you trying to do the catching. It’s different every year depending on the makeup of the team.”
Smith, who also posted the fastest time in the semifinals of the 100 meter hurdles earlier in the day, came back to improve by four-hundredths of a second to a 14.03 in the finals. He was joined in the finals by Javen Correia, who delivered a seventh-place finish with a time of 14.76 to give the Cougars another two-point boost in the team standings. Correia had qualified in the last of nine spots in the event before placing seventh in the finals.
Meanwhile, McClain followed up Smith’s national-championship hurdles performance with a title of his own. McClain kicked up his performance a notch or two to win his first individual national championship with a time of 10.34 in the 100 meters after his strong anchor leg helped the Cougars’ 4x100 relay team advance into the finals with the second-fastest (40.81) time in the event. Zachary Keene missed the 100-meter finals by just four-hundredths of a second, running a 10.72 in the semifinals.
“We didn’t need Remontay or Cedrique to do anything special, because all they had to was just be solid and execute,” Reid said. “We don’t need them to overdo anything, because anything can happen in those races tomorrow. Remontay is even better in the 200 than he is in the 100, so a good day for us would be a win in the 200 and second place in the (sprint) relay.”
After that, the Cougars got a pair of pleasant surprises when Slater Ezell blazed into the 400-meter hurdles finals with a time of 52.08 and Brad Beckwith turned in an All-American effort in the discus with a fifth-place finish. Ezell ran the third-fastest time in the semifinals, setting a personal-record by nearly a full second, and Beckwith threw the discus 166-feet, 10-inches, two feet beyond his PR, to place fifth in an event he entered with the NAIA’s 12th-best mark.
Abednego Magut came dangerously close to missing out on qualification for the finals in the 5,000 meters, despite running with the leaders to help set the pace in his heat. With the top six in each heat set to automatically qualify with the four best times remaining also qualifying for the finals, Magut ran the final 150 meters in the midst of a tight pack of seven runners battling for the six automatic qualifying spots. Magut edged out Brescia’s Matt Lowe by just two-hundredths of a second for the final automatic qualifier, although Lowe also made it into the finals with a small cushion of less than five seconds.
Azusa Pacific’s representatives in Saturday finals are:
Megan Knippenberg (women’s marathon)
Sarah Higgens (women’s steeplechase)
Lauren Jimison (women’s 5,000 meters)
Melissa Telon (women’s 5,000 meters)
Women’s 4x400 meter relay
Remontay McClain (men’s 200 meters)
Slater Ezell (men’s 400-meter hurdles)
Abednego Magut (men’s 5,000 meters)
Men’s 4x100 meter relay