Tuesday, May 27, 2008

National Champions Again

Abilene Christian wins Men's and Women's Titles

Courtesy: ACU Sports

WALNUT, Calif. -- No one was on hand to ask the ACU men's and women's track and field teams where they were going after winning two NCAA Division II team national championships Saturday night at the outdoor championship meet at Hilmer Lodge Stadium on the campus of Mt. San Jacinto College.
If they had, the answer would have been a resounding, "We're going to Disneyland!" after the Wildcats won both team national championships for the first time since 1999. Before both teams return to Abilene, they'll be making a stop at Disneyland on Sunday to enjoy to hard-earned national championships.
For the men's team, it was their seventh straight and 18th overall NCAA outdoor championship. But for the women, Saturday night's team championship snapped a streak that had seen the Wildcats go without a national championship of any kind since winning the indoor title in 2000. The Wildcats' last outdoor championship came in 1999 in Emporia, Kan. ACU has now swept outdoor team titles seven times (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1996, 1999 and 2008).
"We had people score in every aspect on both the men's and women's teams," said ACU head coach Don D. Hood, who on Wednesday night was named the men's National Coach of the Year. "We scored in almost every phase of the meet, and that's a tribute to not only the athletes, but the coaches as well. We've got a tremendous coaching staff that does a great job.
"I'm so happy for our women's team," he said. "Our senior group has gone through a lot this season from injuries to off-the-track stuff. But they put all of that behind them and pulled together and competed and I'm so proud of them. After the way we finished at the indoor meet, I don't think anybody would have said we were the favorite coming into this meet, but our team believed and they went out competed up and down the lineup.
"The men scored 108.50 points to 102 for St. Augustine's, while the women ran away from the field, scoring 76.50 points to 55 for runner-up Adams State (Colo.). Lincoln (Mo.), which had won five straight outdoor championships, finished third with 54 points.
The Wildcats overwhelmed the field early with seven individual winners in the men's and women's competition, and then had to wait out the rest of the night, especially on the men's side where the Wildcats had to sweat out the late charge of their rivals from St. Augustine's. But the Falcons, despite a strong showing from double national champion Dennis Boone in the 100 meters and 200 meters, didn't have quite enough to overtake the Wildcats.
ACU carried an 8.5-point lead over the Falcons going into the final two events and needed just two points in the 5000 meters to clinch the team title. The Wildcats got those two points they needed from Amos Sang, who finished seventh in 14:27.11 to give the Wildcats the two points they needed to take the team title.
"We needed people to step up all day, and they did," Hood said of his men's team. "You've just got to keep scoring, and that's what we did throughout the meet."The Wildcats' domination began early as Linda Brivule got the day started on the right foot for the Wildcats with a national championship in the javelin. Brivule, a sophomore from Latvia, set a new meet record with a throw of 169-9 on her first throw of the final round. Brivule is just the third ACU female to win the national title in the javelin, joining Sonya Smith (1984, 1985) and Geraldine George (2000) on the short list.
The early domination for the Wildcats continued as freshman thrower Nick Jones -- who made a name for himself in the high school ranks as a state champion shot-putter at Amarillo Tascosa -- won the national championship in the discus. Jones unleashed a throw of 187 feet on his final throw of the preliminary round and that stood up through the final three rounds to make him the Wildcats' first national champion in the discus since Andy Kokhanovsky in 1996.
"I'm not a discus thrower, or at least I wasn't when I came to ACU," Jones said after his win. "I certainly didn't come in here thinking I was going to win the national championship in the discus, but I'll take it. I'm really happy for (ACU throws coach) Jerrod Cook. He's worked really hard with our entire throws group, and I appreciate his work with me."People have always told me I look the part of a discus thrower, but I always did so well in the shot put that I didn't focus that much on the discus," he said. "But I found a lot of relief in the discus this year."Jones was in the second flight of the competition and entered his flight knowing the mark to beat was 176-6 by defending national champion Bryan Vickers of Ashland (Ohio). After a throw of 165-5 on his first attempt and a foul on his second, Jones unleashed his personal-best throw of 187-0 on his third and final throw of the preliminary round, pushing him into first place to stay.On his final throw, Vickers made a run at Jones, but his throw of 182-2 was well short of the Wildcat freshman. Jones, in fact, had three of the top four marks in the competition as he topped 180 feet three times.
The Wildcats then saw dominating freshman distance runner Winrose Karunde win her second individual national title of the meet as she captured the crown in the 3000 meter steeplechase. Karunde cruised to the championship in a meet record time of 10:20.42, edging out the previous record of 10:22.06 set by Jennifer Michel of Western State (Colo.) in 2001. Karunde had won the 10,000 meters on Thursday to make her one of three double-winners in the meet.
Just about 10 minutes after Karunde won the women's steeplechase, junior Daniel Maina added a national championship to his impressive inaugural season as a Wildcat by winning the men's title in a time of 8:53.61. Earlier this year, Maina won the title at the Penn Relays, and his win in the steeplechase gave the Wildcats the national champion in the event for the fourth straight year as Maina followed the three straight victories by Nicodemus Naimadu.
The second big surprise of the day came in the 110 hurdles where freshman Billy Walker of Lancaster rebounded from a poor start to win his first national title.
Walker was last out of the blocks and fourth coming off the final hurdle, but outran the field to finish in a personal-best time of 13.86, just edging Jermaine Baker of St. Augustine's (N.C.), who clocked in at 13.88 for second. Walker is the Wildcats' first national champion in the 110 hurdles since Brian Amos won the third of three straight national titles in 2004.
Walker told Hood before the race started that he would win the national championship, but he said after the race that he was never really that confident that he would win the national title."I just knew that's what he (Hood) wanted to hear," Walker said. "I honestly wasn't that confident that I would win because my body isn't in very good shape right now. Plus I was right next to (teammate) Andrew McDowell (who finished sixth), and we have different trail legs and we're always hitting each other in practice. I thought that would be a factor, but it turned out that it didn't hurt me too badly."
The Wildcats then turned in a double victory in the 400 meters as senior Keva Wilkins closed her Wildcat career with a national championship, and then watched teammate Raymond Radway win the men's 400 meters. Wilkins and Radway became the first ACU athletes to win women's and men's titles in the 400 meters in the same season since Tracey Barnes won the women's title and Kempa Busby took the men's crown in 1996.
Wilkins was in third place entering the final 100 meters, but she had a strong enough kick to pass Juliet Alrich of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Stephanie Gebhart of South Dakota to win with a time of 54.05. Alrich was second in 54.58, followed by Gebhart in third at 54.65.
"When I started the race, I just wanted to get off to a good start and I did that," Wilkins said. "I told myself that this was my last year and it was time to win a national championship. To know that it helped our team win a national championship is even better because everybody won."
Radway then captured the men's national title in a time of 46.35 with teammate Jordan Johnson (2006 national champion) finishing third in 46.66, giving the Wildcats 16 critical points toward the team championship.
"I wanted to run in the 45s, but a victory is a victory," Radway said. "I didn't qualify for the Olympic Trials, and that's part of what I wanted to do here tonight. But I also came to ACU to win a team championship, and that's what counts."
That was the Wildcats' last individual win on Saturday, although Davy Manga -- the defending national champion in the triple jump -- finished second with a mark of 52-9.75, just behind Wilbert Walker of Lincoln, who went 53-5.75.
"We had a lot of people contribute to this, and that's what makes me so proud of this group," Hood said. "We had people step up and make things happen all day, and that's what you have to if you're going to win championships. Billy (Walker) and Nick (Jones) sparked us, and I think their performances carried us through the day."

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