Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Pullman, Wash.)
|Vandal men take WAC crown|
MOSCOW, Idaho – It was a championship kind of year for University of Idaho men’s track and field.
Idaho men’s track and field claimed its first outdoor team title since 2001 with a score of 219.5, while the Vandal women took second in an incredible effort with 133.5 points, despite competing without several of its top individuals because of injuries.
“It’s just amazing,” Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps said. “I thought we were a better outdoor team than we were an indoor one, but we ended up battling through some adversity early in the season and I didn’t know if that was going to actually come to fruition.
“Everybody stepped up and the more they performed well, the more they believed we could win.”
Senior Andrew Blaser scored a school-record 44 points, earned First-Team All-Western Athletic Conference honors in six different events and earned High Point Award and WAC Field Performer of the Year accolades.
“Things aren’t always going to go the way you want, but adversity makes champions. It’s been the emphasis on our team, just picking each other up and working together for what we want,” Blaser said of the week. “Everyone from the freshmen through the senior class came out here and did exactly what we needed to do. We worked so hard together, day in and day out, and it’s just the best feeling ever.”
Blaser won the decathlon on Wednesday with 6,782 points, won the 110m hurdles on Friday with a career-best, wind-legal time of 13.98, took third in the 400m hurdles in 52.52 – a three-second career best – and finished third in the high jump (6-4), pole vault (16-0.75) and long jump (22-9) during the week.
His 110m hurdles time ranks third all-time at Idaho, while his 400m hurdles time is seventh-best in school history.
“It was unbelievable. How do you top that?” Phipps said of Blaser. “Field Athlete of the Year indoor and outdoor, High Point Award indoor and outdoor – and the thing that is just baffling to me is that I know he gets tired, but it never seems to affect him. Some of his best performances are in his 15th or 16th events of the week. He’s a coach’s dream.”
Freshman Johanna Hocketstaller was named WAC Freshman of the Year after her outstanding week that included two All-WAC honors and points in four different events.
“It was one of the best competitions I’ve ever had,” Hocketstaller said of her week. “I’m really happy and really glad to compete for the Vandals. It was an amazing week – I’m really tired, but I’m really happy to be able to celebrate now.”
Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps was voted WAC co-Coach of the Year at the end of the meet.
While the men’s team’s 19-point victory left little drama overall at the end, there was plenty to go around on the meet’s final day.
Senior James Clark was cleared for competition early this week after struggling with kidney problems all season and he won one of the tightest races in WAC history in the 800m when he out-leaned three other competitors for the gold.
“It was kind of a last-minute decision for me to compete, but once I stepped out on the track – that’s why I fell in love with this sport – I just went out and left it all on the line,” Clark said.
In a true photo finish, the difference between first and fourth in that event was 0.11 seconds and Clark edged Louisiana Tech’s Alwayne Green by .003 seconds for the victory in the final race of his Idaho career.
“He’s been through so much, and I think anyone else would have quit by now,” Phipps said. “It was only a couple days ago that we decided it was okay for him to run and the text I got from him was, ‘I want to score some points for the team.’”
“Nobody deserves that victory more than James Clark.”
Freshman Ben Ayesu-Attah dropped more than a full second off his career best in the 400m with an upset victory in the event in 46.86 – the ninth-fastest time in Idaho history. He needed to do come up big after teammate Andrew Bloom was unable to start with a hamstring pull.
“I saw the empty lane and realized that Bloom wasn’t in there, and then I saw Ben running right up with the Fresno State guy,” Phipps said. “I hoped he could stick with him and maybe get second place and we’d only lose a couple points from going in seeded in third and fourth. I just couldn’t believe that Ben was so strong in the finish. It was an amazing performance.”
From a historical perspective, Phipps said he’s very excited about the fact that Ayesu-Attah jumped into a top-10 list that features several Olympians, All-Americans and conference champions.
“When I first got here under coach Mike Keller, we had world-class sprinters and that dated back to the 1980s,” Phipps said. “Our 400-meter list rivals a lot of the major programs in the nation, so for a freshman to break into that list is just incredible.”
On the women’s side, there were many standout performances, but none greater than senior Erica Digby, who doubled up with victories in the 1500m (4:29.92) and 5000m (17:14.44) and added a fifth-place finish in the 800m in career-best time of 2:13.21.
After already running the 800m and 1500m finals on Friday, Phipps said Digby wasn’t even sure if she’d be running in the 5k until about 15 minutes before the race.
“It was amazing and very unexpected,” Digby said. “I wasn’t even expecting to be in the 5k in the first place, let alone win it. I haven’t done a lot of 5k training, but I knew I had the speed to finish it, so I just kicked it with all I had.”
Phipps wasn’t shy about the fact that the Vandal women, competing without indoor All-American Hannah Kiser, WAC Championship meet record holder Lauren Schaffer, defending 400m hurdles champion Liga Velvere, and a handful of other strong performers, by far exceeded all expectation.
“The guys overshadowed the women with their win, but to be honest, our women out-performed our men,” Phipps said. “The men kind of did what they were supposed to do coming in on paper, but we were projected to score 90 points and could have finished anywhere from fifth to seventh and we scored 133 points and finished second with such a small group. It really is amazing how well they competed this week.”
Junior Mike Marshall started Idaho’s day with a win, as he and sophomore Ugis Svazs took the top two spots in the men’s javelin at 218-10 and 218-0, respectively. In the men’s pole vault, sophomore Dylan Watts, freshman Matt Sullivan and Blaser all cleared 16-0.75 (4.90m) and Watts claimed his first career individual crown based on fewest misses.
In the men’s shot put, top-seeded Andrey Levkiv, a sophomore, won his first career WAC crown with a toss of 56-5.75 (17.21m).
In all, the Vandal men claimed eight individual titles, 22 First-Team All-WAC honors and 17 Second-Team All-WAC honors. On the women’s side, Idaho had two individual titles, 11 First-Team All-WAC honors and six Second-Team All-WAC awards.
While the team portion of the season is over, several Vandals will still continue on at the NCAA West Preliminary. The list of accepted entries will be posted this weekend.