MARION, Ind. -- Azusa Pacific did all it could to stay in the championship mix on the final day of the 2012 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships, but national titles were not in the cards for the Cougars, who took second-place honors in the men’s competition and finished third on the women’s side.
In both cases, the meet favorites needed to suffer major stumbles to open the door for the Cougars. However, Oklahoma Baptist ended its women’s outdoor title drought with an impressive 101.5-point effort for a winning margin of 20.5 points over last year’s NAIA champion Concordia (Ore.), while Shorter (Ga.) ran off with its second consecutive men’s title with a winning score of 93 points. That was enough to defeat the runner-up Cougars, who registered 69 points and edged Wayland Baptist by just two points for third place.
“We really focused on making sure we got in the top five and just trying to get on the podium,” Cougar men’s track & field head coach Kevin Reid said. “The way everyone just stepped up and really did what they were supposed to do and even beyond was really fun to see, because it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been able to find that here. The way people competed and focused, even without a realistic chance to win, showed a lot of heart.”
The day was filled with standout performances, although Remontay McClain and Lauren Jimison stole the show by winning entertaining races to each claim their second individual national title. McClain won the 200 with a season-best time of 20.77, after the true freshman shaved off three-quarters of a second from his semifinals time.
“It was really nice to see the execution come down after a long year,” Reid said. “To see it all come together makes you feel pretty good that despite the long season, this group could still come together and perform at this level.”
Meanwhile, Jimison showed off her versatility by fending off a late charge in the 5,000 meters from Cal State San Marcos’ Suzanna Cornwell to claim her second individual national title. Unlike the 10,000 meters earlier this week, when she pushed the tempo and took a commanding lead in the middle of the race, Jimison ran a smooth race before finally putting some distance between herself and Cornwell during the final lap. Her time of 17:28.34 was seven seconds faster than Cornwell.
“I’ve only raced against Suzanna a couple of times, and I knew she was very fit,” Jimison said. “I wasn’t sure if I was breaking her or if she was going to be able to out-kick me at the end, so when I had about a mile to go, I was getting a little bit nervous. I just had to trust the plan, because once you commit to a plan in a race, you can’t give up when things don’t feel like they should. The last few hundred meters started to feel like the race was mine.”
Also submitting a race to remember was the Cougars’ 4x100 meter relay team, which ran a 39.90 in the event. The work of opening leg Sameer Sedam, second leg Zach Keene, and third leg Cedrique Smith gave McClain the chance to close out the race with a strong final 100 meters. Although McClain was unable to catch Shorter’s 4x100 relay championship squad, he did help the Cougars post the only sub-40 second time in the program’s history.
“It takes the whole team to set a record, and every leg has a job to do,” McClain said. “Sameer did his job at the start, Zach did his job with the second leg, Cedrique did his job in the third leg, and the anchor leg just takes it home. I have to thank God for the opportunity to be a part of this, and without my teammates and the job they did, I wouldn’t have been able to do my part at the end.”
Slater Ezell also registered an All-American performance, finishing seventh in the 400 meter hurdles finals with a time of 52.30. It was just the second time Ezell had run the 400 hurdles in under 53 seconds, with the first coming the day before during semifinals qualifying.
Other All-American performances on the day included Sarah Higgens notching fifth place in the steeplechase, running the 3,000-meter event in 11:24.96. Melissa Telon also tallied fifth behind Jimison in the 5,000 with a time of 18:14.05, and Abednego Magut was just meters away from hanging onto third before settling for fourth in the men’s 5k.
Junior Megan Knippenberg completed her first-ever marathon in the early morning hours through the streets of Marion, finishing the 26.2-mile course in 3 hours, 19 minutes, 17.50 seconds. The women’s 4x400 meter relay team posted a ninth-place finish with a time of 3:49.88.