Academy of Art sweeps 2013 track titles with outdoor team championship
PUEBLO, Colo. -- Academy of Art is now the first program in NCAA history to have won not one but two national championships in its first year of postseason eligibility. This time, it was the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field National Championship the Urban Knights added to their collection.
“It's a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication,” head coach Charles Ryan said. “It's a dream season. If people would have asked me at the beginning of the year what this group would have been able to accomplish, they've far exceeded those expectations. They're phenomenal.”
Starting the day with a second-place finish in the 4x100-meter relay and later adding an individual title as Vashti Thomas won the finals of the 100 hurdles, the Urban Knights used a complete team effort to secure a sweep of the indoor and outdoor championships. Through the three-day event at Neta & DeRose ThunderBowl, Art U collected more than 15 All-American honors along with the championship trophy.
Academy of Art began its evening second in the team standings to Grand Valley State with more than 10 events to be scored. The 4x100 relay quartet of Briana Stewart, Jesseka Raymond, Thomas and Dinesha Bean opened the Knights' events by combining for a second-place finish in the finals with a time of 45.21. Only Johnson C. Smith ran a better race, but with its first set of relay All-Americans crowned, Art U was off to a strong start.
Next, in the finals of the 100 hurdles, three Urban Knights helped get their squad another step closer to the title. Thomas broke away from the pack to post a new meet record with a 12.70, one of her best times this season, while Bean added a fourth-place finish with a 13.54 and Raymond came in seventh (13.74). Stewart hit a hurdle midway through and was unable to finish the event, but the end result was three more All-Americans including Thomas' second title after she won the long jump on Friday.
Stewart came back after an extended break to score in the finals of the 400 hurdles, where she took seventh overall to become another All-American. A 59.84 brought the Academy of Art team two more points as she was conserving her energy with the possibility of a difference-making 4x400 relay still to come. After the 100 and 400 hurdles, Art U had risen to first and held a four-point margin on Grand Valley State.
Shortly following Stewart's 400-meter hurdles, Thomas returned for her penultimate race of the day: the 200 dash. Thomas, in an event which Coach Ryan has explained the senior does not train for, not only finished second just behind Johnson C. Smith's Danielle Williams, an elite sprinter in DII, but she matched the previous NCAA championship record with a 12.75. It was an Art U record as well, bettering the 22.81 she had posted one day prior in the prelims.
With Academy of Art now a heavy favorite heading into the final two events of the three-day meet, senior Jenny Bergren headed into a 5,000 race under the lights. She led the pack of 23 runners for more than the first 1,000 and continued to push through, but her opponents began to make their moves and Adams State's Alicia Nelson took a commanding lead late. In the end, Bergren finished 18th overall with a time of 18:11.89, however, three runners from Grand Valley State, Art U's direct competition to that point, did not score and essentially eliminated the Lakers from a shot at the title.
Much like the indoor championship, the Urban Knights had now clinched the outdoor championship with still one event left. The Art U 4x400 relay team, which featured Stewart, Thomas, Dominique Berry and Keanna Moody, still ran hard enough to score with an eighth-place finish and a time of 3:44.12.
“Everybody contributed and it was a total team effort,” Coach Ryan said. “We made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of missteps, but the strength of this team is that they are as gifted as they are. We had a big cushion and were able to survive a lot of errors. Jesseka Raymond did a phenomenal job coming all the way back to finish second in the heptathlon. Vash was on a world-class level out here. She put up two top world marks in the same meet. Briana Stewart, Julian Purvis, Jenny Bergren, Dinesha Bean, Dominique Berry; everybody contributed and it was a total team effort.”
In the end, Art U totaled 60 points for its team score, which pushed them ahead of the next-closest finisher, Johnson C. Smith, by a full six points. The Urban Knights will bring home All-American hardware in the women's heptathlon, long jump, triple jump, 100-meter hurdles (3), 200, 4x100 (5) and 4x400 (4) relays as well as the men's long jump and its second national championship trophy of the year.