Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Pullman, Wash.)
NAMPA, Idaho – In a dramatic finish, Idaho men’s track and field won its first indoor Western Athletic Conference crown on Saturday in a meet that came down to the final event at Jackson Indoor Track at Nampa, Idaho.
Idaho’s men held a one-point lead over Utah State going into the final event, which set up a winner-take-all situation in the men’s 4x400m relay. Idaho’s quartet of sophomore Andrew Bloom, senior Josh Dalton, junior Kyle Tylor and freshman Ben Ayesu-Attah led nearly from start to finish and clinched the title with a 3:14.62 to win.
“They just ran amazingly,” Idaho head track and field coach Julie Taylor said. “If anyone was going to make a surge, they denied it – there was no way they weren’t going to win that race.”
The race was the culmination of a week that featured several big performances by Idaho’s big names and several important jumps by its younger crew. In addition to its 4x400m win, the Vandal men won four more individual crowns on Saturday to bring their weekend total to eight at the meet.
Three of those eight titles came from senior Andrew Blaser, who capped off his Vandal career in premier fashion with the WAC Men’s Field Performer of the Year and WAC High Point Award trophies. Blaser won the heptathlon on Friday at 5,324, then came back on Saturday with a win in the high jump at 6-4.25 (1.94m) and the 60m hurdles in a career-best 8.03.
“This entire weekend was all about winning a team title, and we did it,” Blaser said after the meet. “To get any award at the end is awesome, but winning that team title was the most amazing way to go out my senior year.”
Blaser also finished third in the long jump and tied for third in the pole vault at the meet for a total of 40 points.
“He was willing to do even more events if I had asked him to,” Idaho director of track and field Wayne Phipps said. “To come in today after competing two long, hard days and win the high jump, then come back and get third in the vault, then win the hurdles in a PR time – you just can’t write that script.
“There’s no way we even have a shot to be close without him on our team.”
The Vandal women came up just short in the team standings with a final score of 110 and a second-place finish behind Utah State, which scored 144. Vandal sophomore Hannah Kiser was named WAC Women’s Track Performer of the Year after winning the mile in 4:45.67 and breaking the WAC Championship meet record with a 9:45.11 in the 3000m. She also ran the anchor leg of Idaho’s distance medley that broke the meet record on Friday.
Kiser led a sweep of the women’s 3000m, as she was followed in second by senior Erica Digby in a carer-best 9:45.46 and sophomore Alycia Butterworth in 9:48.58.
Junior Liga Velvere added a third women’s title of the day for the Vandals in the 800m with a time of 2:09.05. She was followed immediately in the race by junior Lauren Schaffer, who ran a 2:10.12.
While it was a full team effort across the board, it was Idaho men’s jumpers who powered the team to its crown. Vandal men won every jumping event during the week, starting with junior Jason Lorentz in the long jump on Friday. Senior Rendel Jones went 47-7 (14.50m) for the triple jump crown and senior Jeremy Klas cleared 17-4.5 (5.30m) to win his third-consecutive pole vault title.
“Coach Graham has done an amazing job with those guys,” Phipps said. “He’s obviously been great in his work with our vaulters over the years, but this week he had those guys rolling. Obviously, part of it is Andrew Blaser winning seemingly everything, but Rendel had a huge triple jump and Jason came back with a great long jump.”
In all, Idaho’s men earned 29 First-Team All-WAC and 18 Second-Team All-WAC honors over the weekend. The Vandal women added eight First-Team honors and 10 more Second-Team honors during the week.
Idaho’s title is its first indoor track and field crown since winning the 1997 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title and is the first WAC title by any Idaho men’s team.