Where Your Dreams Become Reality
The Final Day of the 2009 NCAA Championships Features Thrilling Men's Battle
Leading up to the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships, we thought the men's team battle would come down to Oregon and Texas A&M. Not only were we treated to a great battle between those two teams, but Florida and Florida State came very close to taking the crown as the NCAA's best track team.
The final day of four days in Fayetteville was simply amazing. The stars shone brightly in individual events, and guys (and gals) absolutely poured their guts on the track to score points for their schools.
Competing at John McDonnell Field, the Arkansas Razorbacks were noticeably absent from the team leaderboard without their leader who led them to
The day was filled with exciting action on the men's and women's side and we do our best to tell the story of a track meet that will not soon be forgotten.
It All Came Down To This - Men's 4x400m
On the men's side it all came down to the 4x400m where no fewer than 4 teams could grab at least a share of the title. Remarkably, there was a very realistic chance of 4 teams tying for the team title at 46 points.
Oregon entered the event in the lead with 46 points and no 4x400m team. Their day had gone according to plan as Olympian junior Andrew Wheating overtook Tevan Everett in the final 10m to claim the 800m crown in a thrilling race.
Florida State had only 36 points but a bad-ass 4x400m team composed of Jonathan Borlee (JB), Kevin Borlee (KB) and Charles Clark. JB had won the 400 in 44.87 2 hours earlier, while his twin Belgian brother ("fast twin" is his nickname as he usually beats his brother) KB was 4th. Clark had done his part 30 minutes earlier in the meet by winning the 200m. They would be a threat to win but they'd have to contend with Baylor, "400m U", riding a 43-meet win streak in the event and anchored by Quentin Igglehart-Smith.
Texas A&M had 40 points, but only after an astounding showing in the triple jump where their quartet of finalists jumped the meet of their lives to take 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th on the national stage. Their anchor Justin Oliver has spent years playing second-string to conference foe Baylor, but the Aggies would need to defeat either Baylor or FSU to win the NCAA title outright. A third place finish would tie them with Oregon.
And then there was Florida. Charging on the final day on the backs of Calvin Smith and Christian Taylor, the Gators had 41 points and only need a 3rd place finish to surpass Oregon and Florida State. A 4th-place finish would net them, you guessed it, a co-championship with Oregon (unless A&M got 1st or 2nd) and perhaps other teams.
The Race Itself
With the meet hanging in the balance, the 4 x 400 ended up being a race for the ages. FSU had the most talent on the track and their talent showed up big time. Thanks to a strong 2nd leg by KB, they got the lead and it was pretty clear they wouldn't give it up as their 3rd leg was the 200 meter champ Charles Clarke and they had the 400 champ JB on the anchor. Heading into the anchor, FSU had the lead with Texas A&M in second and hard-charging Baylor in third. Florida was in 6th but Calvin Smith was in contact.
On the last leg, it was clear that FSU was going to net 10 points and tie Oregon as FSU's victory never was in doubt. The question was would either Texas A&M get to 46 points (or more) as well.
Texas A&M's Justin Oliver knew that 2nd would give his team the title and he clearly was motivated to go for it. The question was he too pumped as he went out incredibly hard the first 200 and opened up close to a 10 meter gap on 3rd place Baylor. But with about 100 meters to go, he started to tie up and it looked like the impossible was happening: we were possibly going to have a 4-way tie at 46! It looked like a hard challenging Baylor might get 2nd. Behind them, Florida's Calvin Smith was tearing it up and moving the Gators into 5th.
But it was not to be as Baylor's Igglehart-Smith could not just quite catch Oliver. Oliver was out of gas but a national title was on the line and he willed himself to the finish as A&M finished second by .21. The Aggies came from way back in the team standings to take home Pat Henry's 29th NCAA title as a coach as FSU ran 2:59.99 to win the event.
If Baylor had caught Texas A&M, it would have been FSU, Florida, Texas A&M and Oregon all tied at 46. Usually it takes 60 points to win, but this year it was a much closer meet with many teams in contention as the two pre-race favorites A&M and Oregon faltered in some key events to give Florida and FSU a chance.
Watch the Final Lap of the Men's 4*400
Distance Races Recaps
Men's 1500m: German Fernandez Gets it Done
The men's 1500m was the most anticipated mid-distance event of the day as it featured German Fernandez in his first track championship in an Oklahoma St. uniform against a very solid field of 3:37-3:41 guys, all with different backgrounds.
Arkansas' Dorian Ulrey was second last year and desperate to bring the Hog fans to their feet at home. Lee Emanuel had won the mile indoors convincingly over Ulrey and co. Australian flavor came in the form of Matthew Gibney, anchor of the Penn Relays champion Villanova DMR and Irish flavor came from indoor 3:57 miler David McCarthy. Not to mention Austin Abbot, Liam Boylan-Pett, Michael Coe, Garret Heath and Craig Miller.
On a hot and humid day, there were those who wondered how Fernandez would fare in a tough, physical race against a highly talented field that he could not simply run away from as he has been doing in the Big-12 all year.
But apart from the final 150m, there was no challenge mounted to Fernandez. No bumping, no contact, nothing to make the inexperienced German (who one coach had told us is not used to contact that in one race he told his competitors in one race to "get off him") German uncomfortable. German went right to the front right at the beginning. 400m in 60. 800m in 2:00. The whole field sat on the true freshman and no one dared to pass. The next lap was covered in 58 and still German led. Ulrey was in position, Heath was looking good and challenging for the lead. The pace quickened. Fernandez held off the attempts by Ulrey and Heath and maintained his lead and position.
With 100m to go, the race came down to Ulrey, Heath, Fernandez and Emanuel, and the race was briefly in question. Here was the moment: could Fernandez outkick the NCAA's best milers after leading the whole race?
Yes! Fernandez took it comfortably in 3:39.00 while Heath was second in 3:39.51. The true freshman had conquered the NCAA milers in his first try. And he made it look so easy. A final with four 3:37 guys and the freshman sensation leads wire to wire. Very impressive.
So what's next? We'll see, but people will certainly be talking about "4 in a row" for German in the coming years because who is going to beat him? Has anyone ever one NCAA titles at 1,500, 5k and 10k? We need something for German to shoot for.
Behind the leaders, Oregon's Jordan McNamara was gunning for any points he could get for the Ducks. If he could score a single point, the Ducks would be clear of the FSU challenge. But McNamara, the last time qualifier for the final and the last auto-qualifier from the West Region, was gapped by the entire field 900m into the race. He never gave up and he rallied to finish 11th over McCarthy in 3:42, but couldn't give the Ducks the point push they would eventually need.
Fernandez afterwards indicated this likely would be the end of his 2009 freshman campaign. He plans to take some time off and then get geared up for the 2009 cross country season.
Watch the Final Lap of the Men's 1500m
1 German Fernandez FR Oklahoma State 3:39.00 10 2 Garrett Heath SR Stanford 3:39.51 8 3 Lee Emanuel SR New Mexico 3:39.66 6 4 Dorian Ulrey JR Arkansas 3:39.93 5 5 Matthew Gibney SO Villanova 3:40.58 4 6 Liam Boylan-Pett SR Georgetown 3:41.11 3 7 Austin Abbott SR Washington 3:41.15 2 8 Jeff See SR Ohio State 3:41.18 1 9 Craig Miller JR Wisconsin 3:41.31 10 Michael Coe SO California 3:41.64 11 Jordan McNamara JR Oregon 3:42.42 12 David McCarthy FR Providence 3:44.55
Women's 1500m: Susan Kujiken Comes Out on Top
The women's metric mile featured a matchup between FSU's Susan Kuijken and Tennessee senior Sarah Bowman. Bowman and her Tennessee teammates have been breaking world, collegiate and American records all track season in the relays, but Saturday was not their best day of the year.
After opening laps of 69 and 69, led by Riverside's Brenda Martinez, and Bowman, Kuijken got up to the front and the 2-woman battle we all expected had materialized. Within the next lap, those two separated themselves from the rest of the competitors.
The question was who was dictating the pace? It was clearly Kuijken as it soon would be clear that she simply had another gear and way more pop than her orange-clad counterpart. At the bell, Kuijken had taken the lead, though twice in the next 50m Bowman clipped her heels and forced the Dutchwoman to stumble a bit before regaining her stride. After two of those episodes, Kuijken took off for real, looked back, and decided to fly for home from 300 out. Instantly it was game over. 300m to go, 200m to go, 100m to go, the lead widened.
Physically and mentally spent, Bowman succumbed to two competitors the final 100m who didn't try to hang with Kuijken. Bowman just didn't have it the last straight and would be passed by two in the final meters and finish 4th. Brenda Martinez concluded a splendid season with a 2nd-place finish, Stanford's Lauren Centrowitz would nip Bowman at the line to finish 3rd. Georgetown sisters Maggie and Emily Infield went 5 and 8 to both earn All-American honors as well.
1 Susan Kuijken SR Florida State 4:13.05 10 2 Brenda Martinez JR Riverside 4:13.97 8 3 Lauren Centrowitz SR Stanford 4:14.22 6 4 Sarah Bowman SR Tennessee 4:14.27 5 5 Maggie Infeld SR Georgetown 4:14.55 4 6 Heidi Dahl SR E. Tenn St. 4:15.03 3 7 Molly Lehman SR Duke 4:15.19 2 8 Emily Infeld FR Georgetown 4:17.94 1 9 Lucy VanDalen FR Stony Brook-SUNY 4:18.76 10 Morgane Gay FR Virginia 4:19.59 11 Christine Babcock FR Washington 4:20.41 12 Danielle Tauro SO Michigan 4:24.30
Men's 800m: Wheating Edges Everett
Wow. We expected a battle between two studs and two contrasting styles - the front running on Texas' Tevan Everett and the come from behind, kick late style of Andrew Wheating. We got that and a lot more as this was an amazing race.
Everett took it out like everyone thought he would. He hit 200 in 23.88 - yes 23.88 and it looked like he was jogging. Wheating was 1.37 behind at this point (25.25) but he didn't stay way back for too long as at the quarter, Everett (51.26) was only .58 up on Wheating. At 500, Wheating was basically on Everett's shoulder and it seemed like the race's outcome was a foregone conclusion. Wheating and his big kick would take it easily.
Coming into the final 100, five guys were close to each other and we had a race, but soon it was clear what we thought all along - Wheating or Everett would win.
Everett still had the lead with 100 to go. He was still up with 50 to go. Up with 20 to go... But Wheating's last 20 is always great.
Wheating slowly started to come up! Could he edge by Everett in time? Yes, just barely. Everett had nothing left the firnal five meters and could not keep his form. He lunged at the finish but Wheating got by him in the final 5 meters and had just enough to capture his first NCAA individual title and the crucial 10 points for the Ducks. Wheating edged Everett. 1:46.21 to 1:46.27 with Mulder third in 1:46.80 and Baylor's Chris Gowell 4th in 1:46.88.
Directly after the race Wheating grabbed his calf, which started bothering him 300m from the finish in the race. Wheating had gotten some sweet revenge for his narrow loss to Texas Jacob Hernandez at last year's NCAAs.
Finals 1 Andrew Wheating JR Oregon 1:46.21 10 2 Tevan Everett SR Texas 1:46.27 8 3 Tyler Mulder SR Northern Iowa 1:46.80 6 4 Chris Gowell JR Baylor 1:46.88 5 5 Richard Jones SO LSU 1:47.10 4 6 Sean Tully SR Villanova 1:47.25 3 7 Irek Sekretarski SR Southern California 1:47.78 2 8 Ryan Foster SO Penn State 1:47.81 1 9 Jason Collett SR Kansas State 1:48.26
Women's 800m: Geena Gall Wire to Wire PR
Though teammate Danielle Tauro didn't have a great 1500m final, Michigan's returning champion Geena Gall upheld the strong Michigan mid-d tradition as she showed that she was indeed the class of an evenly matched 800m field. Taking the lead early and controlling the pace, Gall pulled the field through in just under 60 seconds.
Because of her dominance, this race was not that exciting as Gall just never relented, running a 61-second final lap to win in a superb 2:00.80 over North Dakota St. senior Laura Hermanson. Although Gall was the NCAA champ last year, this race was a breakthrough and pr as she lowered her pr of 2:02.24 from the 2007 NCAA meet to 2:00.80 and led wire to wire.
Relay star Phoebe Wright of Tennessee was 5th while indoor 800m champ Lacey Cramer of BYU ended her amazing freshman season in 4th. FSU's Pilar McShine finished 9th and out of the scoring for her Seminole team.
Geena Gall (2:01)
1 Geena Gall SR Michigan 2:00.80 10 2 Laura Hermanson SR North Dakota State 2:01.37 8 3 LaTavia Thomas JR LSU 2:01.56 6 4 Lacey Cramer FR Brigham Young 2:03.19 5 5 Phoebe Wright JR Tennessee 2:03.57 4 6 Brittany Hall SO LSU 2:04.06 3 7 Dominique Jackson SO North Carolina 2:04.38 2 8 Heather Dorniden SR Minnesota 2:04.44 1 9 Pilar McShine JR Florida State 2:05.50