Minutes after the women’s distance medley relay championship produced one of the most memorable races in Division II track and field history, the men’s teams countered with a record-breaking race of their own – capped off with a photo finish.
Top-seeded Western Oregon eked out the win over Adams State in the DMR, a victory declared only after officials analyzed finish line images and determined that one thousandth of a second separated the two teams. Western Oregon’s time of 9:40.144 and Adams State’s 9:40.145 both beat the Division II record of 9:40.55.
The race, held during day two of the indoor track and field championships, came down to a battle in the final 1,600-meter leg between Western Oregon junior David Ribich and Adams State senior Oliver Aitchison – two men who will face off again in the mile run on Saturday. Ribich, who joked after the race that he used to laugh at runners who dove for their finishes, went tumbling over the line just a hair ahead of Aitchison. “I got some good scars and some bruises to go with it,” he said. “But these probably would have hurt a lot worse if we got second.”
Ribich said he and his teammates Dustin Nading, AJ Holmberg and Josh Dempsey have had their eyes set on running 9:40 since December, when they began their quest for the national title. “But the problem was, we didn’t expect other teams to come out here and run it, too,” the junior added, giving credit to the Grizzlies’ run. “That’s just the joy of championship racing.”
The runner-up finish moved Adams State into fifth place in the team standings after seven events. Tiffin, the defending champions, held onto their lead from day one and head into the third and final day of the championship with 32 points. Ashland is second with 24.
Azusa Pacific, scoreless after day one, moved into a third-place tie with Grand Valley State after a strong showing in the heptathlon. Defending champion Shakiel Chattoo amassed 5474 points over the two-day competition to clinch his second title – an effort bolstered with first place finishes in the 60-meter dash, 60-meter hurdles and long jump. Teammate Corey Reid came on strong in the final heptathlon event, crossing the line first in the 1,000 meters in 2:41.16 to jump to 2nd place. Chattoo finished last in the run but had built a big enough cushion in the other six events.
Calling the heptathlon a “mental game,” Chattoo said he was tested more this season due to a string of injuries. “I wasn’t 100 percent, but I gave it 110 percent.”
In the triple jump, Minnesota State junior Michael Sandle entered the meet as the heavy favorite, as the only competitor who had jumped over 16 meters. Sandle, who won the event in the outdoor championships last spring and holds the school record for the Mavericks, secured the indoor title with a jump spanning 16.11 meters. He posted the winning mark on his second attempt, choosing to forego his final three jumps to save his legs for the high jump competition that began minutes later, in which he finished fourth. The day before, Sandle placed 12th in the long jump.
Heading into the championships, Sandle knew the triple jump was his to lose. “My coach says if you do everything you did to get here, you’ll be an All-American,” he said. “I wanted to be a national champion, so I just tried to take it a little step further.”
Saint Martin’s Mikel Smith won his first indoor title in the high jump with a mark of 2.22 meters, a new personal best for the senior. Smith, the indoor runner-up last year, took the event in the outdoor championships last spring after clearing 2.16 meters.
The Saints jumper came into the championship Friday with a strategy to jump no more than six times, choosing to pass on four different heights including the 2.19 mark. Wingate sophomore Isaiah Kyle was the lone athlete to clear the height, making it over on his third attempt.
For Kyle, the second-place finish marks an incredible comeback. The sophomore collapsed while training on the Wingate track in September, a scare that required a football trainer to use a defibrillator to keep his heart beating. Kyle, who now has a small heart defibrillator implanted under his skin, is not only back to good health, but competing among the best.
Top Five Teams:
1. Tiffin, 32
2. Ashland, 24
3. Grand Valley State, 18
3. Azusa Pacific, 18
5. Adams State, 17
Men’s Triple Jump: Michael Sandle, Minnesota State, 16.11 meters
Men’s High Jump: Mikel Smith, Saint Martin’s, 2.22 meters
Men’s Heptathlon: Shakiel Chattoo, Azusa Pacific, 5474 points
Men’s Distance Medley Relay: Western Oregon, 9:40.15