DES MOINES, Iowa -- Breanna Leslie and Remontay McClain followed up impressive collegiate seasons with their second senior national championship appearance this year, while freshman Aaron Potts ran in the junior 1500 meter championship at last weekend’s U.S. Outdoor Track & Field National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
McClain advanced to the semifinals of the 200 meter dash, clocking the seventh-fastest prelim time – a career-best 20.32 seconds – before running 20.90 in the semifinals when he needed a time of 20.73 to get into the final. McClain was one of four collegiate runners to advance into the semifinals of the event. Tyson Gay, a three-time 200-meter world champion and a 2012 Olympic gold medalist on the U.S. 4x100 meter relay team, ended up winning the event with a time of 19.74 in the finals.
“I know he was disappointed, but experience-wise, it was huge for him to face Wallace Spearmon (three-time world championship medalist) in the prelims and to come back in the semifinals against Wallace again along with Tyson Gay, who had just won the 100 and is also a former world champion in the 200,” Azusa Pacific men’s track & field head coach Kevin Reid said.
“Feeling what a 20 (seconds)-flat race feels like is going to be important for him down the line. As he’s stepping up, he’s never been in a situation where he’s had to PR just to get out of the prelims. He’s felt fast races this year, and that will bode well for him down the line.”
Leslie registered 5,503 points to place 13th out of 17 competitors in the heptathlon, although she posted the third-highest score among collegiate entries. Leslie was 258 points off her career-record, which she set with a 5,761-point effort in the Mt. SAC Relays Combined Events in Azusa this year, but with her fifth-place finish at the Pan American Combined Events Cup earlier in June she has now scored at least 5,500 points in each three consecutive heptathlons.
She opened the competition with a personal-record in the 100-meter hurdles (13.73), and she cleared 5-feet, 6.5-inches in the high jump. After throwing 35-feet, 0.25-inches in the shot put, Leslie closed out the opening day with a 200-meter time of 24.36, less than one-tenth of a second off her PR. After recording a distance of 17-feet, 8-inches in the long jump, she threw 104-feet in the javelin before wrapping up with a PR of 2:11.35 in the 800 meters.
“It was a good first step for Breanna to feel like she belongs there,” Reid said. “The indoor and outdoor championships are completely different meets, so it was important for her to be at both and see what it’s like. You can’t underestimate the power of being there and competing in that arena.”
In March, Leslie and McClain competed at the U.S. Indoor Championships, which was the first senior national championship meet for both athletes. Leslie took eighth in the pentathlon and advanced to the semifinals of the 60-meter hurdles, while McClain placed seventh in the 60-meter dash at that event.
“It’s a huge thing for them to show that athletes can get to the next level from Azusa Pacific,” women’s track & field head coach Preston Grey said. “All the top Division II programs are well-represented at that meet, and it’s where we want to be represented in every year.”
Potts placed 15th out of 30 finishers in the 1500 meter run at the U.S. Junior Championships, which is open to athletes ages 16-19. Potts was just 35-hundredths of a second away from qualifying for the finals, posting a 3:58.77 to finish fifth in his heat as the top four finishers of each heat would advance to the finals.
“His race went out really slow, but he closed with less than two minutes for his last 800 meters,” Grey said. “It was a great experience for him, even though he was disappointed he didn’t get into the final. Being there and experiencing that meet for the first time will be a positive thing for him in the future. It’s a long road to get from junior championships to senior meets, and he has that kind of ability and desire to be an elite athlete. This meet was a great step in that direction. As a freshman, he helped set the bar high for everybody, because he’s going to do what it takes to be good, and the other guys fed off of that.”
Rounding out Azusa Pacific’s contingent was assistant coach Jake Arnold, who placed sixth in the decathlon with a score of 7,580 points.
“Jake has been at the top of that meet before, and for where he was at physically, he performed well,” Reid said. “He’s a second-day guy, and he showed the experience he’s had there. He barely got into the meet, and he ended up finishing sixth.”
Arnold gained three places on the final day, running the second-fastest time in the 110-meter hurdles and posting the third-best distance in the discus to start the second day. He cleared 16-feet, 0.75-inches in the pole vault, making him one of just four competitors to clear that height, and he held off four competitors who finished within 100 points of his 7,580-point tally.
“In September, we began talking about the new tradition of what we are trying to do, and this group is building the new program as we move towards NCAA competition and beyond,” Director of Track & Field Mike Barnett said. “It’s exciting that this group has caught the vision that we set, and I’m convinced we’ll continue to build on this next year and into the future.”