By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
AUSTIN-“It’s a beeeauutiful day for outdoor track and field!” echoed the voice of the announcer at the 77th annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin.
Indeed it was-warm temperatures, an electric crowd and the best collegiate and professional athletes in the nation make the event an annual Mecca for track and field enthusiasts from around the country.
ACU has been sending athletes to the prestigious meet since 1930, having made one of the biggest overall team impressions on the four-day event for much of its existence. This year’s was no different, as several ACU athletes and relays placed well or picked up qualifying marks in the College/University B Division.
Sophomore sprinter Delt Cockrell had always been told about the meet’s size and prestige, but he said the reality didn’t hit home until he stepped onto the track at Mike E. Myers Stadium.
“I didn’t know what to expect until Saturday when we came out for the sprint relay, and you look up and see all these people-it was just sold out,” Cockrell said. “The atmosphere was just pure adrenaline rush because there were so many people.”
Over 22,000 spectators watched junior Bernard Manirakiza place second in Saturday’s Jerry Thompson Invitational Mile. The reigning indoor champion and defending Texas Relays champion in the event, Manirakiza maintained a steady pace the entire race but was unable to overtake unattached athlete and eventual winner Kip Kangogo on the backstretch of the final lap. Manirakiza’s time of 4:03.81 was close to his personal and season best, beating out several of the nation’s best college and elite milers.
Also on Saturday, the men’s 4×400-meter relay team qualified automatically for the Division II Outdoor National Championships with a third-place finish in a race that St. Augustine’s won in 3:04.01. Cockrell ran a strong anchor leg for the Wildcats, passing the Barton County Community College anchor with about 100 meters left to lift his team to a time of 3:08.48, ACU’s best time of the season and best since 2000.
Cockrell said the fast race served as a motivation to him in his own running.
“I knew St. Augustine’s was fast coming in,” he said. “It just gave me the mentality that I’m going to have to push myself extra hard to keep up with them, to give them some competition.”
Another relay posted a provisional qualifying mark Saturday. The men’s 4×100-meter relay team used fast competition to post its best time of the season and a fourth-place finish.
As expected, Wildcat pole vaulters made an impact on their event Thursday and Friday. Thursday, sophomore Cory Aguilar cleared a personal-best height of 16-10 3/4 to place third behind vaulters from Texas A&M and Oklahoma. He barely missed clearing 17-4 1/2, which would be an automatic qualifying height.
In women’s competition, junior Val Gorter continued her pole vault success, placing second with a vault of 12-9 1/2. Gorter set the Division II record of 13-3 in the event at the Oliver Jackson Open March 27, but barely missed clearing 13-1 Friday. Teammate Katie Eckley only was able to clear one height, 12-3 1/2, before missing three times at 12-9 1/2. Eckley placed fifth in the event.
Three freshmen had successful showings in their first Texas Relays.
Freshman Stephon Greenlee placed in both hurdle events. Greenlee was sixth in the 400-meter hurdles with an improved provisional time of 52.26 and ninth in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 14.81.
Greenlee said he hopes to break the freshman record of 52.16 in the 400-meter hurdles this season, and also hopes to run on the 4×400-meter relay team for ACU.
Freshman Marvin Bien-Aime placed fourth in the 100-meter dash with a provisional qualifying time of 10.41. Teammate and six-time all-American Christie VanWyk didn’t compete in the finals of the event after a false start during his preliminary heat.
On the women’s side, freshman standout Liga Klavina was third in the shot put with a throw of 46-11 3/4. Klavina won the event at the indoor nationals.
Thursday through Saturday, both Wildcat teams will participate in the David Noble Angelo State Relays in San Angelo.
Greenlee said he sees improvement in his team already.
“We’ve only had two meets, and everybody is doing better,” he said. “I see us getting better and better and winning the nationals again. We’re pretty far in-depth; as long as everybody does their part, then I think we can win it.”