March 15, 2009

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After nearly five years of waiting, one NCAA individual championship probably would have been enough for Galen Rupp.

But after dusting the competition in the 5,000 meters to win his first NCAA track title Friday night at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium, Rupp led the Ducks' distance medley relay team to a rousing come-from-behind victory and in the process, became the most honored athlete in University of Oregon history.

After day one of the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, the Ducks lead with 23 points, followed by Arizona State with 15 and Arkansas and Nebraska with 14.

Meanwhile, the Oregon women, led by Brianne Theisen in the pentathlon, Jamesha Youngblood in the long jump, and the distance medley relay team, have already amassed the second-highest point total in school history, 13.

Back to Rupp, who Friday was simply unstoppable.

In the 5,000, the field settled into a tactical pace and Rupp was content to run between third and fifth for the first nine minutes. At the 9:15 mark, Liberty's Sam Chelanga picked up the pace as the lead pack began to string out. Rupp bided his time in third, never losing contact with Chelanga.

Then with 800 meters remaining, Rupp put on the defining move of the race, striding out to the lead and begging the pack to follow.

No one could counter.

Rupp increased his lead on each of the remaining laps and cruised to victory in a stadium record 13:41.45. Chelanga was second in 13:44.57. Rupp became the first Duck to win the indoor 5,000 meters. Freshman Luke Puskedra joined Rupp in scoring in the 5,000 with his sixth-place finish in 13:50.82. Oregon's Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott was 10th in 14:07.81, while Scott Wall was 14th in 14:24.18.

"I was focusing on that race," said Rupp. " I knew I had to get it done, and execute my race and get a championship."

But he wasn't finished.

Barely an hour after the conclusion of the 5,000, Rupp was on the track again, this time taking the baton on the anchor leg of the distance medley relay from Andrew Wheating.

A.J. Acosta opened the DMR for the Ducks and had them in sixth place after the first 1,200. Then Chad Barlow ran a torrid 400 meters, moving the Ducks to fourth before handing off to Andrew Wheating for the 800 meters. The 2008 Olympian put the Ducks into second behind Arkansas, setting the stage for Rupp's anchor leg.

Taking the baton just a step behind Arkansas' Dorian Ulrey, Rupp held second position, with California and Brigham Young in tow. He then challenged Ulrey with 300 meters remaining, and with just over a lap left, and in an all-out sprint, Rupp pulled away from Ulrey and finished the Ducks' win in 9:29.59.

"I was dead set against it until (Rupp) did such a great sales job," said Oregon Associate Athletic Director Vin Lananna. "He said `just give me the baton in second.'

"We have two choices at a meet like this, go big or don't do it al all," said Lananna. "Today we had the kind of personnel to make exciting thing happen."

The two wins on Saturday gave Rupp the 10th and 11th All-America awards of his career, making him the most honored All-American in the history of the University of Oregon. On Friday, Rupp passed women's track standout Leann Warren, who earned 10 All-America certificates from 1980-85.

The UO women were nearly as entertaining.

Theisen broke her own school record in the pentathlon, scoring 4,321 points in a third place finish. Teammate Kalindra McFadden was ninth in a personal-best 4,088 points as both women became the first Ducks to earn All-America honors in the pentathlon.

"If you would have told me before the meet that I would have finished third, I would have taken it," said Theisen, who was ranked fifth nationally coming into the meet. "But I'm the kind off person who doesn't really settle. I really wanted to win.

"Still, I hit a lot of PR's and got a really good score, so it was a good day," she said.

Theisen set a personal record - and a school record - in winning the pentathlon's 60 meter hurdles, running 8.54. She also won the high jump with a clearance of 5-11.25, matching a career best. After throwing 36-7.5 in the shot put, the redshirt-freshman from Humboldt, Sask., set a collegiate best in the long jump with a mark of 19-9, which matched her best effort from high school. She closed the afternoon with a :04 personal best in the 800 meters, clocking 2:17.37.

"The hurdles and high jump was awesome," said Theisen. "I could have done better in the shot put, but it was good to get 19-9 in the long jump which I hadn't done since high school.

"And the 800 was actually an easy race for me which surprised me," she said. "Coach Steele kept telling me I was going to run 2:17 and I didn't think I could do it, but I actually felt really good. Kalindra did a great job of pacing and I just followed her and now I'm thinking maybe I could have run even faster."

McFadden, earned the first All-America award of her career thanks to a PRs in the hurdles and long jump. She clocked 8.83 in the 60 meter hurdles and leapt 18-7.75 in the long jump. The redshirt senior from Bozeman, Mont., also used solid marks in the high jump (5-6.5), shot put (41-1.25) and the 800 meters (2:18.37) to top 4,000 points for the second time in two weeks.

"It's a little bittersweet because I just missed scoring a point for the team, but I put everything I had into it today and it feels great to finally get All-America," said McFadden. "I would have been just as happy without it because I had a lot of fun out there today, but it's pretty special to be an All-American at Oregon.

"Today was a great confidence booster going into the outdoor season," she said.

Youngblood was a surprise point-scorer in the women's long jump. Seeded 14th going into the championships, Youngblood leapt a personal best and school record 21-1.25 on her second attempt on Friday to place fifth and score four points for the Ducks.

"It felt really good," said Youngblood, who felt she had a jump that would have won the day on her last attempt, but she scratched by a fraction of an inch." "I'm disappointed right now because I know that foul would have won and I wanted to win, even though I was ranked 14th coming into the meet.

"But I know I have it in me and it gave me some confidence going into the outdoor season."

The great day for the women was capped by a sixth place finish in the distance medley relay. Nicole Blood, Amber Purvis, Zoe Buckman and Alex Kosinski ran a school record 11:02.81.

Oregon's 13 team points match its effort from the 2003 Indoor Championships, and trail only 1996's 18 for the highest NCAA Indoor point total in school history.

"I feel pretty good about today," said associate head coach Dan Steele. "The men gave us some momentum heading into tomorrow and women showed they're ready to compete."

In action that will be completed on Saturday, Eaton won two events and was second in a third to take the first day lead in the heptathlon with 3,250 points. The junior from Bend, Ore., had a 23-point lead on Bjorn Barrefors of Nebraska, and a 40-point edge on 2008 NCAA heptathlon champion Gonzalo Barriolhet of Florida State.

He won the 60 meters in 6.86, which was just .02 off his personal best. He also won the long jump in 24-3 before a conservative throw of 38-4 in the shot put. He finished the day with a clearance of 6-7.5 in the high jump, which was tied for second best among the heptathletes.

Keshia Baker set an indoor personal best in advancing to Saturday's final in the women's 400 meters. Her time of 53.27 was the third-fastest among qualifiers and broke her own school record. That time also matched Baker's outdoor personal best.

Andrew Wheating continued his domination of the collegiate 800 meters, winning his preliminary heat on Friday in 1:49.17 to advance to Saturday's final.

Matthew Centrowitz will be in Saturday's final of the men's mile after tying for the 10th and final spot. In non-laned races, ties are not broken in preliminary heats, thus Centrowitz and David McCarthy of Providence, who tied for 10th in 4:04.72, moved on to Saturday. Oregon fans will remember a similar situation involving A.J. Acosta in the 1,500 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines last season. Acosta finished 13th in the mile 4:05.72 on Friday. In the women's mile, Nicole Blood was 12th in 4:42.88.

Amber Purvis, the only freshman in the women's 60-meter field, ran 7.39, tying for third in her heat. Overall, she finished 12th in 7.388.

Mattie Bridgmon finished 16th in the women's 5,000 meters, running 16:20.95. Oregon's Lindsey Scherf was a late scratch from the race due to an ankle injury.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The second-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers traveled deep into the heart of Texas and demonstrated they have enough heart of their own to win a national championship on the home turf of the nation's No. 1 team, capturing their second NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championship trophy in the past five seasons Saturday at Texas A&M's Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium.

The nine-member Lady Vol squad scored 42 points, enough to clinch the victory with two events remaining, and won its second NCAA Indoor title in the past five seasons (2005, 2009) and their third overall national title to go along with an AIAW Outdoor crown in 1981. Texas A&M, who defeated the Lady Vols head-to-head in a dual meet here on Jan. 24, 83-69, gamely tallied 37 points to place second. BYU was third with 33, followed by Texas (31) and Arizona State (30) rounding out the top five.

"The character and heart of this team was just unbelievable," seventh-year UT Head Coach J.J. Clark said. "What they did today, coming out here competing and breaking meet and school records, it's just an unbelievable performance by the entire team. An 8.04 in the hurdles, 4:27 in the mile, 57-2 in the shot and then Phoebe Wright, who was really sick last week, coming here and giving her best performance today, was absolutely critical. I am really proud of what they've done.

 

The 2009 NCAA Indoor Champion Tennessee track & field team will be arriving in Knoxville at 1:25 p.m. Sunday at Tyson McGhee Airport.

"Really, it just signifies what our teams at Tennessee have been about. We've won before and gotten third and fourth-place trophies here and there. We always work hard. Not just this team, but all of them, should be proud of this victory today. It was just a really spectacular moment for Tennessee."

Senior Sarah Bowman started the day in grand fashion for the Big Orange by capturing her first-ever NCAA individual crown and her third overall national triumph in a meet-record and school-best clocking of four minutes, 29.72 seconds in the mile run. She dramatically out-leaned Texas Tech's sensational Sally Kipyego at the finish line after a fabulous final-lap fight for victory and became the school's first-ever NCAA mile champion. Falling by the wayside was the 4:30.63 meet standard, set by Wisconsin's Suzy Favor in 1989, and Bowman's previous UT and season best of 4:34.69, which she ran at the Tyson Invitational on Feb. 13.

Kipyego and Bowman ran one-two for nearly the entire race, with North Carolina's Brie Felnagle and Wichita State's Kellyn Johnson making it a four-runner affair for laps three through six. On trip seven around the oval, Kipyego and Bowman surged ever so slightly before separating from the pack as they approached the bell lap. Bowman immediately began her push to overtake Kipyego with 200 to go, but the Red Raider would not yield. With the runners coming down the homestretch side by side, Bowman reached down for everything she had and found just enough steam to propel her across the finish line a hair in front of Kipyego (4:29.75).

"It was definitely a great feeling (to see Sarah Bowman start the day with her first career NCAA individual win)," Clark said. "Sarah had a huge PR again today, and everything went right for her. She ran two miles already at this meet (mile prelim and DMR anchor leg) and came back and ran 4:29. That's quite an accomplishment. She's just a superb athlete.

"She came here very confident and out-kicked one of the top NCAA runners of all time. My hat's off to her."

In the 60-meter hurdles, senior Celriece Law provided the race of her life when her team needed it most. About 15 minutes after Bowman set the school record in winning the mile, the Denver, Colo., native masterfully navigated the hurdles in a UT-best clocking of 8.04 seconds that earned her runner-up accolades and contributed eight points toward the Big Orange cause. Michigan's Tiffany Ofili finished just ahead of Law in 8.00.

"We always knew it (a time and performance like today) was there for Celriece," Clark said. "She just had to come out here and let it happen, and she did. She was very poised and very focused, and I felt very good about what she was going to do prior to getting on the line. She came here and ran one of the fastest times in NCAA history also."

While Bowman and Law were getting the job done on the track, sophomore Annie Alexander was over in the shot put ring, working her mojo. On her second attempt of the competition, she unleashed a throw of 57 feet, two inches, that would stand up for third place and greatly leave behind her previous season-best of 54-11 1/4. The crucial effort matched her 2008 school record and tossed in six more points toward Tennessee's point total.

"I tip my hat to Annie for her performance today and to our staff for getting our athletes ready to get the job done," Clark said. "It was part of our total team effort at this meet. When you get contributions from every area like we did, this year and other years, it shows that our victory in 2005 and our other top-four national finishes were not the result of luck."

In Tennessee's final scoring opportunity, junior Phoebe Wright came through with the decisive eight points that tipped the scales in the Lady Vols' favor. Still battling the effects of a sinus infection, she gutted out a second-place finish in the 800 meters in a time of 2:04.38. She made her move to the front at the bell and fought off Minnesota's Heather Dorniden, but BYU's Lacey Cramer went to the inside down the home stretch and nipped Wright at the line with a 2:04.27 readout. Dorniden was third in 2:04.43.

"She gave us some valuable points," Clark said of Wright. "I didn't even know if she was going to be able to go. We had an alternate here in case she wasn't feeling well for the DMR, because she was feeling so poorly last week.

"She showed so much character, and ran to the best of her ability, and we're very proud of what she's done. We needed a second place to clinch the victory, and that's what she did."

Bowman, who captured her third overall NCAA title, her first individual national crown and initial NCAA team trophy, summed up the feelings of her teammates.

"Oh, my gosh, look at what we've done this weekend," Bowman said. "I couldn't ask for a sweeter weekend my senior year. I can't even put it into words, it's so amazing.

"The heart that this team has, I could actually tear up just talking about them. Just to be out here with these girls who are putting their hearts on the line for the team, and it makes you want to do it all the more. It's awesome to be part of a team like that."

Clark, who now has directed Tennessee to four top-four NCAA Indoor finishes in the past six years, concurred and had a tip of his hat to everyone involved.

"This was a team effort, from the shot, to the hurdles, to the 800 to the DMR to everything," Clark said. "It as definitely a team effort that got this done. I want to compliment my entire staff for making this happen. It was a great effort."

With the indoor season complete, the Lady Vols now will turn their focus toward the outdoor campaign. After taking next weekend off, Tennessee will open the second half of the 2009 season at two different meets on March 27-28. The distance corps will head west to the Stanford Invitational, while the rest of the squad will head down to Atlanta for the Yellow Jacket Invitational at Georgia Tech.

WINNING ATHLETE QUOTES

Sarah Bowman (MILE RUN) "I've been here for four years now, and I hadn't won an NCAA individual title. I don't like to think about that (sort of thing) going into a race, because I don't want to put that pressure on myself. But, it's lurking in the back of my mind. It's something I've wanted for so long. Going into that last lap, I kept pulling up on her side, thinking, 'be patient, be patient, your time's going to come, you feel good.' We came around the turn, and it's a small track indoors, so it's short and you don't have much time (to make a move). I just kept gut-checking it and saying, 'no you don't want to settle for second; you don't want to settle, and I leaned through that line. Then, I just waited...I guess it was just my day, today."