|Vandal distance adds two|
MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho men’s track and field/cross country got a little stronger on Tuesday with the announcement of two distance runner signees – one from nearby and one from quite a distance away.
The Vandal men signed Santos Vargas of Yakima, Wash., and William Austin-Cray from Sydney, Australia, and Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps said he expects both to be immediate contributors to the men’s distance crew.
“It was crucial that we tried to replace a strong group of outgoing seniors in cross country,” Phipps said. “For our conference moving forward, we felt that it was important to be strong in the distance events. One of these guys is more middle distance and the other is probably going to be a little more long distance, so it definitely fills our needs for both cross country and track.”
Vargas was among the nation’s top high school seniors in a range of distance events in 2012. At the 2012 Washington 4A State Championships, he took fifth in the 3200m at 9:16.67 and sixth in the 1600m at 4:13.92. He set Eisenhower High School records in the 1600m (4:12.20), 3200m (9:01.82) and 2000m steeplechase (6:01.06) as a senior in 2012.
In cross country, Vargas took third at the 2011 Washington 4A State Championships with a school-record 15:13.5 over the 5000m course. As a junior in 2010, he helped lead Eisenhower to the Washington 4A state title in cross country – a feat that ended a streak of 22-consecutive state titles by Spokane schools at the classification.
“He had an amazing senior year, Phipps said. “He finished very high in the state of Washington in both cross country and track. He improved a ton in track and broke school records in both the 1600m and the 3200m. He has the ability to run anywhere from the 1500m to the 5k and beyond and I think he can be a great contributor right away for us in both cross country and track.”
Vargas finished his senior season ranked 34th overall and 18th among high school seniors in the United States in the 3200m and 46th among U.S. high school seniors in the 1600m. He ran the 2000m steeplechase for the first time in his career on June 2 at the Washington-Oregon BorderDuel and set a meet record by 10 seconds in the event with a 6:01.06 – the third-fastest time in the U.S. in the event this year.
“Some of the races even to get out of his district and go to state were probably better than most other states’ championship races this year,” Phipps said. “He’s been tested, for sure. He and the kids he’s been running against are already running competitive NCAA Division I times, so his transition should be a lot easier than it will for a lot of other kids.”
Austin-Cray is another dynamic incoming freshman distance runner who has top times ranging from the 800m to the 3000m. He was a Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) champion in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m in 2010 and 2011 who brings career bests of 1:52.84 in the 800m, 3:51.43 in the 1500m, 4:24.35 in the mile and 6:25.67 in the 2000m steeplechase.
“I’m very impressed with the marks he’s put up in high school,” Phipps said of Austin-Cray. “He’s going to be instantly competitive in the WAC. The range he can run, from the 800m all the way up to cross country, is going to be a huge benefit for us, as well.”
Austin-Cray ranked 48th among all Australians in 2012 in the 800m (1:52.84) and 53rd in the 1500m (3:51.43) and finished fifth in the 1500m at the state championship in 2012. He has competed for the UTS Track & Field club team and was selected as a member of the New South Wales State Team in 2011 and 2012. Also in 2012, he was selected as the Most Improved Under-20 Athlete for his club team.
Austin-Cray’s 1500m best of 3:51.43 would rank sixth nationally among American high schoolers. When converted to the more common American high school standard of 1600m, his time (4:08.4) ranks in the top 20 nationally. Austin-Cray’s 800m time would also rank in the top 100 nationally among American high schoolers.
“The NCAA is definitely a unique competitive environment,” Phipps said. “The fact that he’s already been in elite-level competitions and is already putting up strong times shows that he should have a smooth transition to the NCAA Division I level.”
Phipps said he hopes the two signees can help offset the graduation of senior runners Markus Geiger, a two-time Western Athletic Conference champion and 11-time First-Team All-WAC honoree, and Stephane Colle, a WAC champion and seven-time All-WAC selection.
The pair pushes Idaho’s group of 2012 signees to five, including women’s distance runners Stephanie Rexus (Kennewick, Wash.) and Marquita Palmer (Weiser, Idaho), and men’s sprinter Bertrand Alcaraz Garcia (Cartagena, Spain).