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Azusa Pacific claimed its first national title in men's track & field since 2010, holding off runner-up McMurry and third-place Olivet Nazarene.

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February 16, 2013
Joe Reinsch
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MARION, Ind. -- Azusa Pacific ran away with the 2013 National Christian College Athletic Association men’s indoor track & field national championship, winning five different events Saturday to win the national title by a margin of over 15 points. The Cougars also claimed a women’s runner-up finish, pushing the women’s title down to the final event before Shorter University sealed the crown with a win in the 4x400 meter relay.

The final point tally for the men was 110.5 points, which was 15.5 points ahead of runner-up McMurry and 16 points ahead of third-place Olivet Nazarene. The Cougars registered 144.5 points in the women’s standings, just 4.5 points behind Shorter’s 149-point total. Bethel (Ind.) was a distant third with 87 points.

“I remember sitting back and enjoying being able to watch Preston Grey in his new role coaching the women’s team and of course to watch Kevin Reid coach the men’s team,” said Mike Barnett, who was involved in his first meet as Azusa Pacific’s director of track & field. “It was a proud moment just to see the coaching staff working so hard, and to see the students rise to the occasion with all the travel we’ve had the past couple of weeks.”

The men’s national title brings Azusa Pacific’s national-championship total for track & field to 31 titles, and it’s the 24th championship claimed by the men’s program. It is the ninth men’s indoor track & field crown, and it is the 44th national championship won by Azusa Pacific’s entire athletics program.

“We came to win a championship, and we did,” men’s head coach Kevin Reid said. “The competition was good, and nothing was handed to us on the basis of our reputation. We really had to work for it. This is a meet of depth, and I think our guys came in and really covered that well.”

Sophomore Remontay McClain, last year’s 100-meter and 200-meter national champion at the NAIA Outdoor National Championships, repeated his national-title sweep of the individual sprint events with victories in the 60-meter and 200-meter events. David Schulte won the 400 meters, clocking 50.49, and Slater Ezell edged ahead of teammate Jake Hare for a 1-2 finish in the 60-meter hurdles finals.

“We had put up similar runs a while back at NAIA indoor nationals in Johnson City, where we won several events in a row, and that’s what we did again today,” Reid said. “From the 4x800 relay, Remontay, Slater, and Schulte, a run like that is hard to fend off. This is a team that really works together. They found themselves and moved around to different events as guys competed, and it’s a unique group that’s jelled really well.”

For the women’s team, Breanna Leslie was named the Female Athlete of the Meet after she won individual national titles in the pentathlon (4,109 points), 60-meter hurdles (8.61), and high jump (5-feet, 7-inches). She also ran the opening leg of the Cougars’ 4x400 meter relay which finished second behind Shorter, capping a busy weekend of events for the 5-foot-9 senior who has now qualified for the U.S. Indoor Championships with her performance in the pentathlon.

However, the men’s return to the top of the podium for the first time since 2010 grabbed its fair share of attention, and the McClain-dominated sprints were one of the most-anticipated highlights. The sprints were his fifth and sixth national-championship finals, and he was joined in both finals by Shorter’s Kirk Wilson. He leaned over the line ahead of Wilson in the 60, winning by three-hundredths of a second with a time of 6.83.

Later in the day, the two set up in the blocks for the final heat of the 200, but Wilson false-started and was disqualified. Without Wilson ahead of him to chase in lane six, McClain was forced to fight all the way down the final straightaway to hold off Greenville’s Bruce Gray in a photo-finish. He collected the victory over Gray by less than a hundredth of a second, registering an official time of 21.883 to Gray’s 21.886, a margin of just three-thousandths of a second.

The Cougars also won the 4x800 meter relay, as freshman anchor Aaron Potts held off Oklahoma Christian down the stretch to put his team across the line with a winning margin of 13-hundredths of a second. Azusa Pacific was second in both other relays Saturday, the 4x200 meter relay and the 4x400 meter relay. The Cougars were the only men’s team in the meet to finish either first or second in all four relays.

Other points for the men came from a variety of sources, including Tomek Czerwinski’s second-place tie in the heptathlon. Czerwinski took the heptathlon lead into Saturday’s action, and his time of 8.63 seconds in the day’s first event, the 60-meter hurdles, extended his lead heading into the final two events. However, after successfully vaulting 11-feet, 4.25-inches, Czerwinski felt tightness in his hamstring that forced an early exit from the pole vault. He then ran the 1,000 meters in 2:55.45 to finish in a second-place tie with Oklahoma Christian’s Austin Wallace.

LaJuan Moye tied for third place in the long jump, clearing six-feet, seven-inches, while Talaiasi Taueli and junior Brad Beckwith finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in the shot put, with individual best throws of 50-feet, 10-inches for Taueli and 49-feet, 7.25-inches for Beckwith. Ryan Phillips rounded out the scoring with a seventh-place finish in the mile, running the mile in a time of 4:27.76.

Anthony Bryant finished 10th in the triple jump, just outside the top-eight in scoring competitors, but his leap of 42-feet, 8-inches put him less than a half-meter from scoring.

In women’s races, Azusa Pacific gave itself the opportunity to build up enough of a cushion to hold off Shorter after Leslie was closely followed in the 60-meter hurdles by teammate Jordan Chesley, who ran a 9.17 for a 1-2 finish for Azusa Pacific. Anita Fung added three points with a sixth-place time of 8.04 in the 60-meter dash, but Shorter claimed three of the top-five in the same race and also added a point with the eight-place finisher. Shorter also had the third- and fourth-place finishers behind Leslie and Chesley in the hurdles.

“We weren’t perfect, but you’re never perfect in this type of meet,” women’s head coach Preston Grey said. “Shorter had a heck of a meet, when it came late in the meet and they needed points, their kids stepped up and got the points. I still felt that we were solid across the board and put together a really solid meet.”

Shorter made its move for the lead in the 200- and 400-meter races, placing four of the top six in the 200 to earn 25 points before sweeping the top three spots in the 400 for another 24-point outburst.

“We had a big lead most of the day but we always knew Shorter would make that run in the 200,” Grey said. “We knew it would be really close down to the end; we thought we had a good shot at it and ultimately came up just a little bit short.”

With an opportunity to regain control in the distances, the Cougars got eight points from Diandra Carstensen’s second-place finish in the mile (5:04.68), and she added third-place points in the 800 meters with a time of 2:20.12. Reika Kijima also contributed two points by finishing seventh in the mile with a time of 5:15.91.

Sarah Higgens’ third-place effort (10:26.11) in the 3,000 meters, which saw her steadily battle her way forward throughout the race, was overshadowed by Shorter’s Shea Spicher, who won the event outright to help Shorter build up a 2.5-point lead heading into the 4x400 meter relay. The Cougars’ only chance to win was to win the final relay and hope that Shorter finished no better than third, but Shorter led the relay for all but a brief stretch of the opening leg to hang on for the win.

Leslie’s opening leg put the Cougars in front, but Shorter regained the lead in the second leg and never looked back, beating Azusa Pacific by nearly 2.5 seconds with a winning time of 3:50.15 to the Cougars’ 3:52.63.

“Azusa Pacific track & field is about winning championships, so even a good meet in second place still feels like we’re missing something,” Grey said. “It’s not fun to lose, even when you have a solid meet. We don’t ever want to lose that approach, but I’m glad the girls fought really hard because that’s the spirit and fight that we need to carry into Division II.”

Leslie won the high jump by clearing 5-feet, 7-inches on her first attempt. Fresno Pacific’s Sarah Hill also cleared that height but did so on her second attempt to finish in second in the competition. Sydney Eaton placed third, clearing 5-feet, 3-inches.

Mareka Clark notched a fourth-place finish in a competitive triple jump field, leaping 39-feet, 3.75-inches, and Cheri Smith threw the exact same distance in the shot put to register eighth place and another team point in that event.

“Jordan Chesley ran great in the hurdles after a rough meet in Grand Rapids last week, and Sydney Eaton was definitely solid in the high jump,” Grey said. “Outside of Breanna, we didn’t win a lot of events, but we had a lot of people scrapping together points.”

In all, the Cougars produced 27 All-American performances, with 16 coming from women’s events and 11 from men’s events.