Whiting, McNeill add more NCAA track titles

Ryan Whiting saved his best for last.

On the very last throw of his collegiate career, the celebrated Sun Devil broke the 72-foot mark for the first time to win his second straight national title in the shot put as the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships wrapped up yesterday in Eugene, Ore.

Whiting’s throw of 72’01” is the second-best in collegiate history, just three centimeters off the record, and was good enough to set a new ASU record.  Earlier in the season at the ASU Invitational, Whiting topped the school, NCAA, USA, and world lists with a heave of 69’8.75″ – and then went on to throw for 70 feet or better eight times this year.

The redshirt senior also won the discus event Wednesday night, making him just the 10th man to win both the shot and discus in the same meet.  He finishes his college career with three outdoor national titles and three indoor national titles in the shot put, as well as his national discus title.

Whiting also became just the second Sun Devil to earn at least one All-America honor in eight consecutive NCAA meets, four indoor and four outdoor.

All three Arizona universities came home from Eugene with something to feel good about.

ASU’s men’s program finished the season ranked fourth nationally, with the team’s best outdoor finish since the 1981 season.  Texas A&M swept the men’s and women’s titles.

The Devils picked up 16 of its total 37 points in the shot put where Whiting was joined by Jordan Clarke (fifth) and Jason Lewis (seventh) in picking up points.  Clarke and Lewis both also saved their best for the Championships, as each recorded season-best marks.  Clarke threw 63’00” and Lewis hit 61’07”.

Whiting and Lewis, also a senior, finished their careers with 11 and eight All-America honors, respectively, which are the two best in school history.

Meanwhile, the University of Arizona women’s team earned its best national finish since 2001, finishing in 13th place overall.  They scored more points than Wilcat squads managed from 2003 through 2006 combined.

Liz Patterson and Brigetta Barrett earned All-America honors on the first day, and then Christina Rodgers (800m) and Julie Labonte (shot put) picked up All-America honors to post the team’s highest total of unique individual point scorers since that 2001 season.

Patterson, who already had accumulated two national titles, closed out her college career with a runner-up finish in the high jump (6’0″).  Barrett came in seventh, thanks to her best jump of the year at 5’9 1/4″.  In just her first season of collegiate competition, the freshman has two All-America awards and ranks eighth on the school all-time list.

And sophomore Hannah Moen wrapped up the final day for the Wildcats by finishing 14th in the steeplechase.  But she set a school record in the process, competing through rain and cold temperatures in the qualifiers to run a 10:13.13 to get into the finals.

And for Northern Arizona University, the excitement centered around the school’s premier distance runner, David McNeill, who successfully defended his 5,000m title.

McNeill got a late lead on the field and was able to hold off Sam Chelenga, a junior from Liberty University who has battled McNeill at various events all year long.  Chelenga won the cross country national title this year, but McNeill won both 5K titles since then.

McNeill became just one of four track athletes in NAU history to win multiple national titles.  The school has accumulated 12 individual titles.

Javier Villarreal closed out his career at NAU with a 15th place finish in the shot put, throwing 57’9.5″.  The senior owns five Big Sky Conference shot put titles and also holds the indoor shot put record of 61’10.5″.

Rounding out the ASU experience, the Devils also enjoyed some success in the 5,000m run and the 4×400 relay.  Brandon Bethke, finished in 11th place in the 5,000m (14:00.26) and Zeke Van Patten placed 23rd (14:29.28) overall.

And you might say the 4×400 relay team also saved their best for last, but primarily because the relay was the final race of the meet.  The team of Justin Kremer, Allante Battle, Donald Sanford, and Joel Phillip ran a 3:05.65 for an eighth-place finish, one team point, and All-America honors.

On the women’s side for ASU, Jasmine Chaney, who entered the meet ranked 17th overall, finished fifth in the 400m hurdles to earn her first All-America honor.

Overall, the ASU men earned six individual and one relay All-America honors, with seven different athletes contributing.

Whiting is done for ASU, but not done competing.  He will be attending graduate school at Penn State, but will first head to the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships to compete later this month, and then back to Eugene July 3 for the 36th annual Prefontaine Classic.

Eventually, he wants to reach London to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Even with the freshman, Clarke, returning for three more years, it will be difficult to replace what Whiting brought to the Sun Devil track program the past four years.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)