AZUSA, Calif. – The nation’s largest collegiate invitational combined events meet gets underway Wednesday, as over 100 athletes representing 35 collegiate track & field programs from throughout the United States and Canada converge on Azusa Pacific Wednesday and Thursday for the Mt. SAC Relays and California Invitational combined events meet.
The 104-athlete field includes seasoned veterans from major NCAA Division I programs along with non-Division I athletes and first-time competitors in a collegiate decathlon or heptathlon. The field is split into three men’s sections (Mt. SAC and California Invitational “A” and “B”) for the decathlon, and there will be two sections of the women’s heptathlon (Mt. SAC and California Invitational).
“This is a similar field to past years, where the quality at the top is really good and the depth of that quality is also very good,” said Azusa Pacific men’s track & field head coach Kevin Reid, who serves as the meet director. “I fight every year with going on a straight descending order list, because this meet was originally started for the first-time athletes, and we’re never going to get away from allowing a freshman multi-eventer to do his first decathlon at this meet. Deep down, I would be just as happy to have 10 guys score over 8,000 points as I would to have first-timers from top to bottom, because this meet is always going to be a place for that.”
Topping the list of decathletes in the Mt. SAC section is Jake Arnold, who became just the second athlete to win consecutive NCAA Division I decathlon titles when he accomplished the feat in 2006 and 2007 at the University of Arizona. Arnold, who has trained alongside 2008 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bryan Clay and is currently serving as an assistant coach at Azusa Pacific, will be representing Asics. Winner of the 2010 U.S. outdoor decathlon championship, Arnold represented the U.S. at the 2007 and 2009 world championships. Arnold set his personal-record of 8,253 points in 2010.
Sharon Day, who is also competing for Asics, enters the heptathlon as one of the favorites to win the Mt. SAC section as one of two competitors with a personal-best score over 6,000 points. Day was the 2011 U.S. national outdoor champion and was a three-time runner-up. The 2005 NCAA high jump champion represented the United States in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, and she represented the country twice in the Outdoor World Championships. Her personal-best is 6,343 points, which came with her second-place finish at last year’s U.S. Olympic trials.
Of the 17 decathlon competitors, Arnold is the only one who has registered over 8,000 points in his career, although 13 of the others have PRs of 7,000 points or better. Among them are Nebraska’s six-time All-American Bjorn Barrefors, a native of Sweden who won the 2012 Big Ten decathlon title and owns the school-records for decathlon (7,897) and indoor heptathlon (5,894), and Minnesota’s Jack Szmanda, who holds his school’s decathlon record and has a PR of 7,862 points.
UCLA junior Marcus Nilsson, who also hails from Sweden, is a two-time All-American who won the bronze medal at the 2010 world junior championships. He brings a personal-best of 7,823 points, which ranks fifth all-time at UCLA. His teammate, senior Dominic Giovannoni, is one of eight competitors who have scored better than 7,500 points, as his personal-best is 7,558.
The teammates are also one of four schools with two athletes represented in the 17-athlete decathlon field. Nebraska, with Barrefors and senior Teran Walford (PR: 7,272), Wisconsin with junior Japheth Cato and sophomore Zach Ziemek, and Washington with Jeremy Taiwo and freshman Josh Gordon are the others.
Cato, a four-time All-American, three-time Big Ten champion, two-time NCAA indoor heptathlon runner-up and the Big Ten indoor heptathlon record holder, achieved his 7,616-point decathlon PR at this same meet a year ago. Ziemek holds a PR of 7,042 points, and the 2013 indoor All-American is Wisconsin’s school record holder in the pole vault with a best of 17-feet, 8.5-inches.
Earlier this year, Taiwo set the indoor heptathlon high jump world record, clearing 7-feet, 4.5-inches, and his school-record indoor heptathlon score (6,156) ranks fifth in NCAA history. Taiwo was the 2011 Pac-10 decathlon champion, and his decathlon PR is 7,742 points. His father, Joseph, was a two-time Olympian in the triple jump for Nigeria. Gordon, a high school state champion in the long jump who took up the decathlon his senior year of high school, will be competing in his first decathlon at the collegiate level.
The rest of the field consists of the following athletes:
Daniel Kinsey (NEO Elite): 2009 All-American at University of Akron, where he set school records in heptathlon and decathlon… 2005 high school Nike indoor national champion in pentathlon… decathlon PR of 7,563, which he set in 2009.
Andy Lillejord (North Dakota State): 2013 indoor heptathlon All-American, scoring school-record 5,793 points… placed fifth in the California Invitational as a 2011 sophomore, scoring 6,863 points… decathlon PR of 6,971 points, set in 2012.
Jemal Williams (USC): As a 2012 freshman, became the first USC male athlete to compete in decathlon at the conference meet since 2003… Recorded a new decathlon PR of 6,417 three weeks ago at Cal’s Multi-Event Meet in Berkeley.
Michael Tibbs (Air Force): Owns the program’s second-highest heptathlon total and fifth-best decathlon score all-time… Scored a career-high 7,158 points to finish third at last year’s Mountain West outdoor championships.
Corey Hammon (Illinois): Set school-record in decathlon with 7,150 points at last year’s Big Ten Championships.
Kurt Reichenback (Michigan): Scored personal-best 7,107 points at last year’s Big Ten Championships.
Justin Balczak (Lake Superior State): The lone competitor from a non-Division I program, the sophomore two-time All-American was the 2013 NCAA Division II runner-up in the indoor heptathlon… Set his personal-best of 7,072 points in 2012.
Azusa Pacific, which hosts the meet, is represented in both sections of the California Invitational. Junior Tomek Czerwinski, the 2012 California junior college state decathlon champion, who posted the top junior college mark in the nation last year, has a PR of 6,888 points. He is joined in the “A” section of the invitational with Michael Marsh, a former Azusa Pacific assistant coach and another former training partner to Clay. Marsh was a three-time NAIA All-American at Cedarville, where he set the school-record, and he went on to compete in several U.S. championship meets, including an eighth-place finish in 2009. His PR is 7,587 points. Sophomores Matt Nash and Justin Young are slated for the California Invitational “B” section.
In the Mt. SAC section of the women’s heptathlon, Azusa Pacific is represented by Breanna Leslie and Megan VanWinkle. Leslie, a senior who holds program-records in pentathlon and heptathlon, competed at the 2013 U.S. Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., in the pentathlon and 60-meter hurdles. An 11-time NAIA All-American, four-time NAIA national champion and the 2013 National Christian College Athletic Association national champion in pentathlon, 60-meter hurdles, and high jump, Leslie set her heptathlon PR of 5,369 points and finished seventh in the Mt. SAC section of this meet last year.
VanWinkle, a junior, holds the Azusa Pacific school record in long jump, and she was a five-time NAIA All-American. Her heptathlon PR of 5,023 points was set at the 2012 NAIA championships, and she joins the Mt. SAC section for the first time after scoring 5,012 points last year in the California Invitational section.
“This is a highlight for our athletes,” Reid said. “It’s huge for them to be a part of this meet. Breanna made that jump to the next level during indoor season, and Megan couldn’t have been more excited when I informed her that she’d be competing in the Mt. SAC section.”
Other than Day, 10 other competitors have registered career-bests of 5,500 points or better in the decathlon. Angela Whyte, whose PR is 6,080 points, is a 2003 graduate of University of Idaho who has competed twice in the Olympics for Canada in the 100-meter hurdles. Whyte was a 2004 Olympic finalists, and she has qualified for five world championships in the hurdles, advancing to the finals in 2007. Whyte was a four-time All-American at Idaho, and she joins Day as the only competitors to register at least 6,000 points previously in a heptathlon.
Three competitors will represent the Women’s Athletic Performance Foundation, a first-year program based in Santa Barbara which was established to provide overall support for elite American female track & field athletes competing in the heptathlon. Barbara Nwaba, the 2012 NCAA heptathlon runner-up for UC Santa Barbara, placed fifth at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and represented the U.S. at the 2012 Thorpe Cup. Nwaba’s PR is 5,986 points, and she is joined by her W.A.P. teammates, Aisha Adams and Lindsay Schwartz.
Adams graduated from Angelo State in 2011, where she was a two-time NCAA Division II national champion and set the Division II championship record in the heptathlon. She represented the U.S. at the Thorpe Cup in 2010 and 2012, and she competed in last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials. Her heptathlon career-best is 5,861 points. Schwartz was a two-time NCAA All-American at South Alabama who graduated in 2012 and went on to compete at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials as well as the 2013 U.S. Indoor Championships. Schwartz’s heptathlon PR is 5,614 points.
San Diego State junior Allison Reaser, the 2011 U.S. junior champion in the heptathlon and a 2012 NCAA All-American, also competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Reaser holds school-records in both pentathlon and heptathlon, and her PR is 5,753 points. Her teammate, freshman Nicole Oudenaarden, competed in last year’s Canadian Olympic Trials, and she brings a PR of 5,716 points into the meet. Brittany Bozeman is the third competitor from San Diego State to enter the Mt. SAC section. Bozeman is a junior who has a PR of 5,290 points.
Wisconsin is represented by a pair of All-Americans in senior Dorcas Akinniyi and junior Deanna Latham. Akinniyi is a five-time All-American and four-time conference champion with a PR of 5,733 points, while Latham is a two-time All-American who holds a heptathlon PR of 5,606 points.
Junior Sami Spenner from Nebraska-Omaha placed fourth at the 2013 U.S. Indoor Championships, and she has a PR of 5,593 points. Former Azusa Pacific athlete Tiffeny Parker was the 2009 NAIA champion in the 100-meter hurdles, and she earned 10 NAIA All-American honors. Parker’s PR is 5,362 points, and she too competed at the 2013 U.S. Indoor National Championships in the pentathlon and the 60-meter hurdles.
Rounding out the field are four other competittors, starting with USC graduate Shana Woods, who won the U.S. junior heptathlon championship in 2006 and brings a PR of 5,533 into this week’s event. Rachel McIntosh, a native of Canada who competed at University of Pittsburgh and University of Calgary, has posted a personal-best score of 5,477 points.
Maddy Outman, who competed collegiately for Williams College and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is a six-time NCAA Division II and seven-time NCAA Division III All-American, and her PR is 5,397 points. UCLA junior Tatum Souza rounds out the Mt. SAC section, posting a PR of 5,350 points.
The two-day combined events meet is followed by the all-day Bryan Clay Invitational on Friday April 19.