March 13, 2010

By Glen Rosales, Special to

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Bonus points in the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships come about when athletes far exceed their seeding.

And in that scenario St. Augustine's College (Raleigh, N.C.) received a big bonus, courtesy of high jumper Christopher Copeland, pushing the four-time defending champs to a first-place tie with Adams State (Alamosa, Colo.) with 18 points after Day One. Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Hillsdale (Hillsdale, Mich.) are tied for third with 15. Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.) is alone in first place on the women's side with 15 points. Ashland University (Ashland, Ohio) is in second with 12 and four teams are tied for third with 10 points each.

Copeland entered the event on Friday at the Albuquerque Convention Center seeded 11th out of 12 competitors.

But when it was over, it was Copeland who stood on the top step of the podium with a jump of 7-feet, ½-inch, providing a big-time bonus the four-time defending champions.

"It feels good," he said. "It's unexpected, but it feels good. I'll take it."

Copeland also continued a recent tradition as the Falcons have won the event the last three years.

"The former champion, Joe Kindred, he graduated so I knew I had to step up and fill his shoes," Copeland said.

A sophomore who finished fifth nationally last season, Copeland said he learned from Kendrick.

"Take every meet seriously," was the advice Kendrick gave to Copeland. "Nothing is given to you. Take nothing for granted. Work hard every day."

Copeland's winning jump was just a half-inch better than runner-up Noel James of Florida International (Miami, Fla).

And that was the same margin of victory that Darcie Schmitz of Fort Hays State (Hays, Kan.) won by in the women's long jump.

Schmitz, a junior, went 19-9 ½ (6.03 meters) to just edge Racquel Anderson of Lincoln (Missouri).

"I saw the '6' go up on the board, then I saw the '0' go up and I thought, 'I know, if I lose by a centimeter, I'm going to be so upset.'" Schmitz said.

She didn't have to worry about it as it was good enough for her first national championship.

"That's the best jump I've had since outdoor last year, so I was really excited," Schmitz said. "I want to keep getting better and come back next year and do it again."

She didn't compete in the indoor championships last season because she was coming off knee surgery to her meniscus.

"It's pretty awesome," Schmitz said. "All the training and stuff has been worth it."

Heavy training also paid off for men's long jumper Nafee Harris of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana, Penn.).

The No. 1 seed, Harris leaped 25 ½ feet for a fairly easy victory.

"I've just been training for two weeks in a row," he said. "I lost at the conference championships, so I was really determined to win this one."

Coming in as the top seed is not really the way Harris likes to go into the championships, but it worked out for the best.

"I would actually rather come from behind because I don't like having that big target on my back," he said. "But when it's your turn, you have to perform. I was pretty happy with my performance. It's great. I won it outdoors, but there's nothing like winning. It's incredible.

Katrina Biermann of Truman State (Kirksville, Mo.) came away pretty excited about her victory in the pole vault. She won by virtue of clearing 13-1 ¾ (4.01 meters) on her first attempt, while Lauren Stelten of Minnesota State-Mankato made it on her second.

"It was tense," she said. "It was kind of comforting that I was in the top two spots. It's still kind of surreal that I could possibly win the championship."

And not only did she win she established a school record, as well.

"I thought maybe breaking the school record, hitting 4.01, would be nice," Biermann said. "But I just wanted to go out and do what I've been doing."

When it came to just doing what they do, it was a strategy that worked for the Seattle Pacific women's medley relay team.

Anchor Jessica Pixler, who earlier in the meet qualified for the mile finals, anchored the Falcons relay and overcame a significant gap for the victory.

"We just didn't want to let any gap open if we could help it," said opening runner Jane Larson. "Obviously, it did open up, but we also knew that we had total confidence that Jessica could bring it back in the end because she's such a strong miler."

The victory was significant for Seattle Pacific because of the makeup of the squad.

"It was fun because three of us are seniors," Larson said. "We've been together for four years so this was kind of our celebration race of being together."

The championships continue Saturday. Field events begin at 1:45 p.m. and running events begin at 3:30 p.m.