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Lenny Padilla | | May 24, 2014

Padilla: Strong day for Chico

  A trio from Chico State finished in the top six at the Division II National Championship on Friday.

ALLENDALE, Mich. -- The men’s decathletes crossed the finish line of the 1,500 meters to the chants of “Chico! Chico! Chico!”

It was appropriate because Chico State, a school in northern California, had three of the top six finishers in the decathlon, including a third consecutive championship by J. Patrick Smith on Friday at the 2014 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

“The first one was kind of out of the blue,” Smith said, a senior, who won with a personal-best 7,645 points. “The second one, I wasn’t the favorite and the third one [here], I came in with a bullseye on my back. So it was pretty stressful, but I’m glad I had these two guys with me through the whole thing.”

His teammates Teddy Elsenbaumer finished second with 7,438 points and John Brunk was sixth with 7,351. Payson Maydew of Emporia State finished third with 7,413.

Chico’s big finish in the decathlon helped the school wrack up a whopping 21 points and take the lead in the team points standings with 31. Adams State is second with 25 and Ashland is third with 22 after seven of 21 events. The final day of competition is Saturday on the campus of Grand Valley State in West Michigan.

The Chico trio, all seniors, have known each other since competing against each other in high school. In fact, Elsenbaumer and Smith are roommates and Brunk lives next door.

“It’s just like having two of your best friends in your corner,” Elsenbaumer said. “When you start to feel low, they pick you up. Decathlon is like a roller-coaster, there’s highs and lows. So to have your teammates there for you, it equalizes it for you.”

Brunk crossed the finish line first in the 1,500, the final event of the decathlon, with a personal best of 4:23.90.

“The 1,500 was a 12-second PR for me,” Brunk said. “I ran my ass off and gave it my all.”

It wasn’t as smooth for Smith and Elsenbaumer, who stayed together throughout the race.

“The 1,500 isn’t my best event, but it was my favorite today, though,” Smith said. “I didn’t quite believe it was going to happen [winning the event]. But I just followed this guy [looks over at Elsenbaumer]. He kind of tugged me the whole way.”

Smith said his best event is the long jump. Not only did he win it in the decathlon with a leap of 24-11 (7.59m), he finished fourth in the open event.

“Long jump is my best event,” Smith said. “It would have placed me third in the open competition. The open long jump was really special for me because I finished ninth as a freshman, one point from being an All-American, and I really wanted to get fourth. And that’s what I got.”

Elsenbaumer said his best event is the 100, which he finished first with a PR of 10.77 seconds, narrowly edging out Smith, who crossed at 10.78.

“It’s been awhile since I ran that fast,” he said. “It’s good because it was the last thing I expected to happen. It’s a huge surprise. I just wanted 11 [seconds].”

“JP had his first Javelin throw [Friday] go boing, over to the side,” Brunk said with a laugh. “That was stressful for him. But we were there for him. We’ve been together for a long time and we bring out the best in each other.”

Jeron Robinson is another athlete that got the best out of himself.

The sophomore from Texas A&M-Kingsville, set a Division II record in the high jump with a stunning leap of 7-feet, 6 1/2 inches (2.30m). That leap is tied for the best in all divisions this year with Arizona’s Nick Ross. It’s also tied with Ross for the ninth-best time in the world. Robinson is now a three-time champion in the high jump.

“It feels good,” Robinson said. “I came in injured, so that gave me motivation to come here and win the title. And I got second in indoor, so it was good to win it.”

During his winning leap, the sign that faced the crowd said he was going for 7-4 1/2. So when he cleared 7-6 1/2, it was a stunner to the fans, but not to Robinson.

“They had the bar at the right height,” he said. “But they had the sign at the wrong height. I knew what the height was, the crowd didn’t.”

Robinson, whose previous best was 7-6, now advances to the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, California.

In the men’s discus, Kyle Steinhauser finally made it to the top of the podium.

“It feels great,” he said. “I got sixth last year and 10th my sophomore year. So I was moving in the right direction. I finally won the big meet. Because in high school, I lost to [Findlay’s Justin Welch], who I beat [Friday]. He beat me twice at the state meet.”

Steinhauser went to Perkins High School in Sandusky, Ohio, and Welch went to Eastwood High School, where he was a three-time state champ in the discus. Welch won the Division II weight throw title on Thursday.

“It’s been a long road,” Steinhauser, a senior, said. “Feels good to finally be on top. My mom and dad, aunt and uncle and teammates were here, so it’s good to do it in front of them.”

In the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Tabor Stevens basically ran all alone.

Stevens, a senior from Adams State, cruised to the national title with a time of 8:35.05, which is the best time in Division II this season and the second best time across all divisions. Only UTEP’s Anthony Rotich has a better collegiate time this year with a blistering pace of 8:30.54.

Tyler Curtis of Colorado Mines, finished a distant second in 8:49.22 and Harald Karbo of Augustana (S.D.) finished third in 8:50.21. His teammate Neal Anderson finished sixth (8:57.60). Alex McGuirk of Chico State was fourth.

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