By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
“Shoeless Bernard Manirakiza” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but after Saturday’s mile run at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships, the senior just might have himself a nickname.
Another runner stepped on the back of Manirakiza’s right spike on the second lap of the eight-lap mile race, forcing the senior to finish with one shoe for the second straight year.
Not only did Manirakiza win the race, but he ran the fourth-best time in school history and close to his personal best, leading the men’s team to its 11th indoor title and ACU to its 50th men’s or women’s track and field title.
“I was impressed, too,” he said of hearing his mostly one-shoed finishing time. “I heard the people talking on the microphone, and I expected them to say 4:04 or 4:06, but they said 4:03. It was very good.”
Last year, the middle- and long-distance standout lost his left spike well into the race at indoor nationals but managed a fifth-place finish. No doing this year.
Maybe no one in Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center was more impressed with Manirakiza’s Saturday performance than ACU head coach Jon Murray.
“Bernard has really developed the mental aspect of his racing. He is getting to the level that, no matter what, when the race ends, Bernard will be at the front,” said Murray, who has been a part of 30 men’s or women’s national titles. “The mental toughness it takes to lose a shoe and continue like there is nothing wrong is tremendous.”
Manirakiza said losing his shoe for the second consecutive year was too coincidental to have happened by accident. He said he feels foul play may have been involved.
“By the second time, I was feeling that they did it on purpose,” Manirakiza said. “I think they’re scared of me. They know me; they’ve run with me in cross country or nationals, so they wanted to take my shoe off.”
When the wild turn of events took place, however, Manirakiza knew what he had to do.
“I was like, ‘I don’t have any choice; I have to go,'” he said. “I was feeling good, and I was confident I could win nationals.”
Manirakiza, who claimed the 800- and 1,500-meter titles at the 2003 outdoor championships and the 800 meters at last year’s indoor meet, defended his indoor half-mile title Saturday with a come-from-behind finish over Northwood’s Josh Weber.
The only other individual winner in the men’s competition was sophomore Yevgen Pashchenko, who won the triple jump with a mark of 51-7 1/4 after fouling on his first two attempts.
Teammate Ben Washington, the 2003 outdoor champion in the event, took the lead from his teammate several times in the competition, but ended up placing second with a jump of 51-5 1/2.
“It was an exciting competition among team members,” Murray said of the Pashchenko-Washington dominance in the triple jump. “It was also a big help for our team score.”
Pashchenko also placed third in the men’s long jump with a mark of 24-0 3/4. The men’s 4×400-meter relay team of Marvin Essor, Elton Garus-Oab, Ricardo Johnson and Delt Cockrell was third, finishing the race in 3:12.89.
Women finish fourth
ACU’s women placed fourth in a field of teams dominated by champion Lincoln University and runner-up Adams State College.
This finish continued the longest period the ACU women have gone without a team title since the establishment of indoor track and field in Division II in 1985. The women last won an indoor title in 2000 and followed with a second-place finish in 2001, a fourth-place finish in 2002 and another second-place finish in 2003.
Murray said he was optimistic about the team’s chance to win a title in the beginning of the season, but identified a lack of championship qualifiers as a primary reason why the team struggled at nationals. He also said the athletes who did qualify often didn’t capitalize on their opportunities.
“All together, the women’s team just missed out on a few opportunities to place higher,” he said. “Going into the meet, though, we knew every place was going to be important in the final team score.”
The story of the day for the ACU women was Stephanie Warren, who placed second in two extremely competitive events, the high jump and triple jump. Warren set season-best marks in both events, clearing 5-10 1/2 in the high jump and jumping 42-0 1/2 in the triple jump. The latter mark was the second-best in school history.
“Stephanie was a tremendous competitor in both of the events she did,” Murray said of Warren, who is competing at ACU for one semester after transferring from Southwest Missouri State University.
Junior Katie Eckley, the Division II record holder in the pole vault, placed second in the event Saturday with a vault of 12-4. Teammate Val Gorter cleared 12-0 on her way to a fourth-place finish in the event.
Freshman Liga Klavina was the only individual national champion for the Wildcat women, winning the shot put by more than two feet with a throw of 48-11.
Other finishers for the women’s team included the 4×400-meter relay squad, which placed fourth overall, and transfer Adeh Mwamba in the mile, who placed ninth in 4:56.10.
Murray said he is confident the men’s team can continue its winning ways and the women can return to their former dominance during the outdoor season, which officially kicks off next weekend.
Several athletes will compete at the McMurry Indian Relays Friday; nearly the entire team will compete in the Oliver Jackson Invitational at Elmer Gray Stadium on March 27. Select athletes also will travel to Palo Alto, Cal., for the prestigious Stanford Invitational.
Murray said the mental aspect of track and field will be important to success during the outdoor season, but that he expects his teams will have no trouble.
“Both teams will continue to work on the importance of being prepared mentally for the national meet,” Murray said. “It is nice to be able to get to the outdoors competition, especially with nice weather happening. I expect both team to be in high contention for the outdoor championship in [Walnut], California.”
ACU (team) – 4th – 46 points
Sofi Hildenborg – 12th, 400m – 56.49
Adeh Mwamba – 9th, mile – 4:56.10
Liga Klavina – 12th, 60m hurdles – 9.11
4×400-meter relay (B. Hunt, J. Hunt, Armstrong, Hildenborg) – 4th – 3:47.36
Stephanie Warren – 2nd, HJ – 5-10 1/2
2nd, TJ – 42-0 1/2
Ashley Armstrong – 7th, HJ – 5-7
Katie Eckley – 2nd, PV – 12-4
Val Gorter – 4th, PV – 12-0
Liga Klavina – 1st, SP – 48-11
ACU (team) – 1st – 55 points
Delt Cockrell – 11th, 400m – 48.80
Ricardo Johnson – 12th, 400m – 48.80
Marvin Essor – 9th, 400m – 49.36
Bernard Manirakiza – 1st, mile – 4:03.83
1st, 800m – 1:50.32
4×400-meter relay (Essor, Garus-Oab, Johnson, Cockrell) – 3rd – 3:12.89
Cory Aguilar – 8th, PV – 15-9
Yevgen Pashchenko – 3rd, LJ – 24-0 3/4
1st, TJ – 51-7 1/4
Ben Washington – 2nd, TJ – 51-5 1/2
Manuel Brandenborn – 5th, SP – 55-5 3/4