By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
The men’s track and field team picked up its fourth straight indoor national championship with ease Saturday at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships in Boston. ACU placed first overall with 84 points behind 12 top-eight individual finishes.
Adams State finished second with 46 points, followed by Lincoln, California State-Bakersfield, and St. Augustine’s.
The ACU women were barely edged out by St. Augustine’s, which scored 53 points to the Wildcats’ 48.5.
“It was an exciting meet,” head coach Jon Murray said of the performance of his men. “We had a few bad things, but then the guys stepped up and kept it going. All the way through I felt pretty confident.”
Junior Yevgen Pashchenko got the ball rolling Friday with a win in the men’s long jump. The winning jump of 24-11 gave Pashchenko his third individual collegiate title. Also picking up points for the Wildcats Friday was the distance medley relay team, which placed first with a time of 9:48.04. This season marked the first time the distance medley relay has been included in the indoor nationals events.
Pashchenko also led a group of athletes who scored big points in the men’s triple jump Friday. Pashchenko was second in the event with a jump of 51-5, followed by Ben Washington in third (51-3) and Vladyslav Gorbenko in fourth (50-11).
Junior Cory Aguilar also picked up points with a sixth-place performance in the pole vault (16-1).
Murray said he didn’t expect to have such a great start to the meet with his field event performers.
“I knew we’d get big points from our running events,” he said.
And big points he got.
Newcomers Lucky Hadebe and Nicodemus Naimadu picked up national championships Saturday in the 800 meters and 5,000-meter run, respectively. Naimadu won his race with relative ease, coasting to the 5,000-meter victory in 13:59.64. Hadebe fought off competitors to place first in the 800 meters in 1:50.18.
The other national champion was sophomore Marvin Essor in the 400-meter run, who finished with a time of 47.47.
In his last track and field race in an ACU uniform, senior Bernard Manirakiza finished sixth in the mile with a time of 4:10.05. Manirakiza has been named all-America seven times in track and field since 2001.
Sophomore Marvin Bien-Aime, who finished a surprising second in the 200-meter dash at the 2004 outdoor meet, placed second in the same event Saturday (21.57).
One of the more disappointing races of Saturday’s action was the 4×400-meter relay, in which a St. Augustine’s runner knocked over ACU’s Ricardo Johnson. Johnson was slow to get up, and the Wildcat relay team managed to place eighth in the race. St. Augustine’s was disqualified from the race because of the incident.
Other men’s finishers for the Wildcats included Hadebe in the mile (10th place, 4:32.61) and freshman Laurent Ngirakamaro in the 5,000-meter run (11th place, 14:30.15).
On the women’s side, sophomore Olha Kryv’yak was the lone individual champion, winning the mile in the second-fastest time in school history, 4:49.96.
“Olha’s victory in the mile was great,” Murray said. “We haven’t had a champion in [the mile] in a long time.”
As expected, ACU earned points in the pole vault, behind a second-place finish from senior Val Gorter (12-9), a fifth-place finish from Angie Aguilar (12-5), and a seventh-place finish from senior Katie Eckley (12-1).
Junior transfer Addeh Mwamba was disqualified in the mile for stepping out of her lane but redeemed herself in the 800-meter run, placing second with a school record time of 2:08.24. Trina Cox finished sixth in the mile with a time of 4:54.4.
The women’s relay teams might have run the hardest of anyone, however. On Friday, the women’s distance medley relay team finished second with a school record of 11:33.35. On Saturday, the 4×400-meter relay team took the track with ACU leading the meet by a few points. Going into the last lap, the Wildcat squad was leading the race, but a St. Augustine’s runner passed ACU’s anchor runner with less than a lap to go to seal the meet. The relay team’s time of 3:43.53, however, was the fourth-best performance in school history.
“We had some what-ifs there,” Murray admitted. “But it was close; it was exciting.”
This weekend Murray will take a small group of distance runners to the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., while most of the team travels to Waco for the Baylor Invitational.
Murray said he will give his athletes a break from practicing hard the first part of the week.
“This coming week, we’ll probably take it a little easy,” he said. “The last half of the week, we’ll start working hard again.”