May 29, 2010

By Chuck Murr
Special to

BEREA, Ohio - Third place never meant more to Tara Clemens and the Illinois Wesleyan women's 4x400 meter relay team than it did on Saturday.

Clemens' anchor-leg finish gave the Titans third place by seven-tenths of a second. More importantly, it earned her team the women's title at the 2010 NCAA Division III Men's and Women's Track & Field Championships at Baldwin-Wallace College.

Marie Borner of Bethel (Minn.) set a Division III record in winning the women's 800 meters in 2 minutes, 6.87 seconds. That came about two hours after she ran a season-best 4:23.85 to repeat as 1,500-meter champion.

Borner was named the meet's outstanding woman runner, while Ellie Sitek of Wisconsin-Oshkosh earned outstanding woman's field competitor honors after repeating as discus champion, placing fourth in the hammer throw and sixth in the shot put.

Illinois Wesleyan, indoor and outdoor champions in 2008, won only one of 23 events, the 4x100 relay, but the Titans accumulated 54 points to edge Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the 2006 and 2007 outdoor champs by one point, 54-53. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was third with 37 points, one ahead of 2010 indoor team champion Wartburg College.

"The outcome is overwhelming," Clemens said. "I knew what I had to do. That simply was to finish off the hard work of all my teammates in all the events that got us to that point.

"There wasn't really pressure. I just knew that if I ran my part of the race as well as I knew how, we had a chance. Fortunately, I was able to fulfill our dream."

Winning coach Chris Schumacher had confidence in Clemens and the other members of the Titans' 4x400 team - Ali McCoy, Lauren Alpert, and Mackenzie Clemens. Still, he was worried that something could go wrong with a handoff.

"We were five points down and needed to finish third to earn the six points," Schumacher said. "I thought we could do that. My biggest concern was securing the stick and getting it all the way around (the track).

"Coming into the week, I thought we had a chance. Other teams have some bigger names, some great individual champions, but our girls have a fighting attitude. They worked so hard and have so much pride. It all paid off."

McCoy and Alpert, along with Amanda LaRocca and Shavantay Thomas earned the Titans' only first-place finish with a Division III season's best time of 46.07 in the 4x100 on another hot and humid afternoon.

"It was really just Titan pride," Thomas said of the relay win. "We said 'Never give up on a race,' no matter how far ahead another team is in front of us."

All the Illinois Wesleyan sprinters picked up key points. LaRocca was second in the 100 and 200 and third in the 100 hurdles; Thomas third in the 100 and fourth in the 200; and McCoy seventh in the 200 and eighth in the 400.

Wisconsin-Oshkosh, also nicknamed Titans, had built a big lead by dominating strength events in the first two days. Sitek's repeat victory in the discus looked like it could close it out.

"I just wanted to come out and throw it," Sitek said. "I had to wait until the end of the meet to get my best throw. That winning throw felt great."

Liz Lawton of the University of Chicago became a distance double champion by winning the 5,000 meters. On Thursday, she cruised to victory in the 10,000.

"I'm completely floored and shocked," the junior said. "It was really hot on the track today and I went out entirely too fast. I had the lead, then got passed and had to come back. When you get into a group you get a little anxious - but then again, it is really hard mentally to lead all the way."

Lawton came in with the fastest qualifying time in the 5,000 and said she was very confident in her chances - though she wondered what winning the 10k two days earlier might have taken out of her.

"I didn't sleep a lot after that win because I was still keyed up," said Lawton, who battled back from a burst appendix 18 months ago and a torn left calf muscle last fall.

"I didn't really have an effect from Thursday. I tried to relax in the shade all day Friday, drank about 30 bottles of water, and felt good. Once I got on the track today, though, it was tough with the sun beating down. I knew that if I felt strained, everybody else felt strained, too. That gave me confidence the last couple laps to go out and win."

Lawton's coach Chris Hall said he was ecstatic over the double championship and that even though he had encouraged her to compete in both events, was surprised at the results.

"I'd be lying if I said last week Liz was going to win two national championships," Hall said. "I did know this would be a real challenge for her and that she loves challenges. She's so easy to coach. She listens, but these wins are all about her dedication."

Bethel's Borner said winning a title a year ago gave her confidence to step up and win two this year.

"I have really been digging deep and steadily improving my times all season," said the senior. "I knew if my legs were strong and could hold up, I had it in me to go out and have a couple of great races. I had to focus on one race first, then worry about the other one. Fortunately, I had some good strength left in my legs."

Rachel Boerner of Calvin College also won two individual titles. She won the 400 meters in 54.50 seconds and the 400 hurdles in 59.80 seconds.

Two freshman each became national champions, too. Ruby Blackwell of Methodist University ran a wind-aided 23.80 seconds to claim the 200 meters.

Tanasia Hoffler of Williams College won the triple jump at 40 feet, 10½ inches.

"I came in with very high expectations, then faulted on my first jump and was really nervous," said Hoffler, who also ran on two relay teams. "It came to my last jump and I just said, 'I need to get it together here.' I guess I did."

Manchester College junior Kailey Honn won the high jump at five feet, eight inches. Richard Stockton senior Lisa Shepard became a three-time All-America with a third-place finish.

Honn finished 12th a year ago and said that experience spurred her this time.

"I was really nervous last year and didn't jump well at all," she said. "This year, I didn't concern myself with where I was and what I was doing. I put my focus on each individual jump."

Miriam Khan of the College of New Jersey, wearing a wrap to protect a strained right hamstring, won the 100 meters in a wind-aided time of 11.67 seconds to edge Illinois Wesleyan's LaRocca (11.77).

"I sure didn't know I was going to run that fast," said Khan, a transfer from Boston College. "I never expected it. I haven't practiced this week, but figured I would just go out and do the best that I could do."

Messiah College senior Kristen Bates won the 100 hurdles in 13.83 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in Division III history.