March 12, 2010

By John Oehser, Special to

GREENCASTLE, Ind. -- Philip Richert saved his best collegiate moment for last.

The very, very last, as it turned out.

Richert, a fifth-year senior for the Wisconsin-Stevens Point track and field team, turned in one of the most dramatic, memorable efforts on the first day of the 2010 Indoor Track and Field Championships at DePauw University's Hollensteiner Track on Friday.

Anchoring the distance medley relay team - the final men's event of the first day - Richert made up a half-track deficit in the final two laps and nipped Trinity University (San Antonio, Texas) anchor Brian Wright in the final three meters to win in 10 minutes 02.38 seconds. Trinity finished 0.7 seconds back.

"I didn't think we had a chance until the last straightaway," Richert said. "Honestly, I didn't think I was going to get him until three feet to go. I didn't think there was even a chance. I got him right at the line.

"It was definitely a dream race, but I definitely can't say that I thought it was going to happen."

The victory provided Stevens Point with its only 10 points of the day, but the Pointers qualified for six second-day events. North Central (Naperville, Ill.) leads after the first day with 23.3 points, ahead of Trinity (18) and Wisconsin-LaCrosse (15.5).

"Our ultimate goal is to try to win the team title - this definitely helps," Richert said.

On the women's side, Oshkosh leads after the first day with 14 points, one ahead of heavy pre-meet favorite Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa). The University of Chicago is third with 11 points.

Sophomore Skye Morrison won the long jump for Wartburg, which also scored two points in the distance medley, but the Knights were disappointed when four runners - including No. 3 seed Nevada Morrison - failed to qualify for the 400-meter finals.

"We had a tough day today," Wartburg coach Marcus Newsom said. "We had some success early on, but we had four 400-meter runners and one was rated third and we didn't get anyone in the finals. We have to have a big day tomorrow. We really do.

"This is a national championship. Every opponent is top in the country. My focus is the way we come back tomorrow, regroup and refocus. Tomorrow's a new meet. We have to go win tomorrow's meet. That's our goal. This is what championships are."

Oshkosh took its lead in the woman's competition largely thanks to junior Holly Ozanich, who won the weight throw with a throw of 64-5¼. Sophomore La'shonda Carter of New Jersey City University (Jersey City, N.J.) won the high jump at 5-7¾, and University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.) won the final women's event of the first day, with Taylor Berg, Nikki Arola, Erin Sprangers and Kelly Russ combining to win the distance medley relay in 11:50.46.

Early in the day, a pair of pre-meet contenders on each side scored key early points.

On the men's side, North Central dominated the pole vault, with four vaulters combining for 20.3 points. That total included senior Jake Winder, who won a second consecutive national championship with a vault of 5.12 meters, or 16-feet, 9½ inches.

On the women's side, Morrison won the long jump at 5.72 meters - 18 feet, 9¼ inches. She trailed entering the final, then turned in her winning jump on the first round of the finals. Morrison, who entered with the top qualifying jump,edged Ashton May (5.69, 18-8) of Wisconsin La Crosse for the title.

"When you lead going into the national meet, you want to be able to win it, and that's tough to do," Newsom said. "That's a lot of pressure. Handling the pressure is the tough part of it. I'm very, very proud of what she was able to do."

Morrison scratched all three jumps at the national championships a year ago.

"I didn't want to repeat last year," she said. "I wanted to get my first jump high on the board, so I'd be able to adjust to my next jump. I knew Ashton was right behind me each and every jump, so I just had to reach for it. My goal was to come here and win it and that's what I did."

Morrison's victory gave the Knights 10 early points, with many of their strongest events yet to come on Saturday.

"It's like that for every meet - focus on your individuals and we come in as a team," Morrison said. "We're one big family. We work together and work hard."

Men's winners on Friday were Trinity senior Todd Wildman in the pentathlon (3,751), Winder in the pole vault (16-feet, 9½ inches), sophomore Kellen McCrary of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the long jump (23-6), senior Eric Jones in the weight throw (62 feet, 9¼) and a Stevens Point distance medley relay team that not only provided Richert a "perfect" career conclusion, but a dramatic finish to the first day.

As Richert made up ground on Wright, the crowd - a crowd that included fans who had made the drive from Stevens Point - cheered loudly. That included his relay mates - senior Adam Lang, junior Nick Dax and freshman Alex Steiner - each of whom who said they were as sure as Richert the race was over.

"I was screaming my head off," Steiner said.

Richert added, "It was so loud I couldn't even think. I was just trying to go as fast as I could. . . . That was perfect. I was more worried about the guys behind me. I was feeling good, but I thought he as too far ahead.

"I've been dreaming about this for five years. That's about as perfect as it can possibly be."