May 28, 2010

By Chuck Murr, Special to NCAA.com

BEREA, Ohio -- Kim Chinn heard the hometown cheers and tried her best.

But she couldn't match Jacqui Wentz's finishing kick.

Wentz broke from the pack to win the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase by 14 seconds over Chinn of host Baldwin-Wallace College on Friday at the NCAA Division III Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

"It's very easy in this event to get down mentally, so hearing the cheers helped," said Chinn, who took up the event only a year ago and came in as the 10th-best qualifier.

Wentz's time of 10:16.16 was a Division III season best. She did it while trying to conserve energy to compete in two more events Saturday and help Massachusetts Institute of Technology improve on its 11th-place standing in the team competition after two days.

Wisconsin-Oshkosh, champion in 2006 and '07, leads with 37 points, followed by rival Wisconsin-La Crosse at 16 and Moravian College and the University of Chicago at 15 apiece.

"The plan was to stay with the field, then try to win it at the end without expending too much energy," Wentz said. "I couldn't think about tomorrow. At the beginning of the week, I was thinking about all three of my races, but when I enter a particular race, my focus is just on what is at hand."

Wentz will run the third leg on MIT's 4-x-400 relay team Saturday about three hours after competing in the 1,500 meters.

"Today was satisfying," she said. "Now, tomorrow is more important."

Chinn, a junior, is looking further ahead -- to the 2011 championships.

"This was a great experience today, to finish second," she said. "It gives me the confidence to know I can do well in this event. I'm eager to keep working and see how well I can continue to improve.

"I think that was the best thing about having those people cheering. It gave me confidence."

Chinn ran the 800 and 1,500 for her first two years at Baldwin-Wallace but said she always wanted to try the steeplechase. She ran it for the first time at the end of her sophomore year and now is hooked.

"I love it because there's more to it than running, which can wear on you mentally," she said. "The jumps in between, it takes a certain technique combined with the effort of running. I felt good today and kept expecting somebody to challenge me. I wanted to win, gave it all I had, but Jacqui was just too strong."

Alyssa Pirinelli of St. Lawrence came up strong on her final throw to win the shot put. Her final toss of 47 feet 7 inches made her a two-time national champion; she also won the indoor title.

"'Two-time champion' -- that still sounds a little funny," Pirinelli said. "But what a way to finish my career. It feels pretty awesome."

Pirinelli had finished 12th as a freshman, then seventh before being runner-up a year ago to Monique Riddick of Montclair State. After winning the indoor title in March, she felt the pressure going to her final throw Friday.

"Last year's winner transferred to a Division I school, so I knew this could be my year," Pirinelli said. "Still, there's always that freshman who comes out of nowhere. You worry about who that may be, and when I was in third place with one throw to go, it was like, 'OK, this is it, your final toss ... time to get it done.'

"When it landed, I wasn't sure if it was good enough. When I heard the result, all I could think of was, 'Wow ... and what took you so long to get going?'" Courtney Hartman of Bridgewater (Va.) had similar thoughts after rallying to win the heptathon with 4,904 points. Three-time All-American Leah Kay of Concordia Moorhead was second with 4,812.

Hartman led entering the final event, the 800 meters, but didn't know it.

"I knew I was in a good spot, but I had no idea I was leading," she said. "I just knew I had to go out and bust an 800. My coach came up to me right before the race and told me, 'This is it. Go out and get it done, and leave nothing on the track. You have a national championship in your grasp.'

"The goal was to be an All-American again, and I didn't have that in mind. I just wanted to go out there and not leave anything left in me."

Hartman didn't even practice some of her events in recent weeks because of a sore back.

"I was out a good five days," she said. "I did throw close to a personal best in the shot put, and then in the javelin, that's an event I struggled with all year. But my throw there put me into the lead."

Miriam Khan of the College of New Jersey ran a season-best 11.85 seconds in the 100 meters and leads a strong field into Saturday's finals.