UA track caps successful indoor season with nat’l titles

The 2011 indoor track & field season has to be considered a break-out year for the University of Arizona.

The women’s team came in seventh overall at the NCAA Championships, the best finish in nearly a decade, while the men’s 14th-place finish marks the highest since 2007.

Along the way, both teams broke school records and set some of the top marks in the nation.

It was a sophomore on the women’s team that set the tone for the season.   Julie Labonte won every shot put event she entered during the indoor season and added the finishing touch by bringing home a national title from College Station, Texas, where the NCAA Championships were held over the weekend.

And, in the process, broke a 27-year-old record at Arizona with a throw of 57’9″ at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships in Seattle.  The Canadian also set that country’s indoor national record three times over the course of the season and finished with the 19th-best throw in the world.

Teammate Brigetta Barrett from Texas also pocketed a national title, clearing 6’2 1/4″ in the high jump on the first day of the nationals.  It was the first national title of her career and she also picked up her third All-America honor.

A season-best jump of 6’3 1/2″ earlier in the season turned out to be the best in country this year, qualified as a top-five mark internationally, and was good enough for the U.S. Olympic ‘B’ Standard.

Christina Rogers, a home-grown product from Central High School in Phoenix, was the third Wildcat woman to be named to the NCAA All-America first team.  The redshirt senior finished fifth overall in the 800-meter run at the nationals with a time of 2:05.27 to earn her second All-America honor.

Rogers was the 5A-II state champion in the 800-meter while at Central High School and set school records in the 800m, 1,600m, 4×400 relay, and 4×800 relay.

On the men’s side, JUCO transfer Stephen Sambu completely shattered a six-year-old UofA record in the 5,000-meter event.  His time of 13:28.48 at College Station eclipsed the old record by about 16 seconds.

Sambu’s time was also the second-fastest in school history for both indoor and outdoor competition.

The native of Kenya transferred in last year from Rend Lake College in southern Illinois, where he won back-to-back NJCAA D-I national cross country titles and was also a national champion in the 10k and 5k outdoor events and the 3k, 5k, and mile event indoor. (Phxfan article, 2/29/10)

Six others on the men’s squad also were named to the All-America first team, including all the members of the distance medley relay squad, which set a new school record this season.  The relay team included: Abdi Hassan, Sean Delfani, James Eichberger, and Lawi Lalang.

Rounding out Arizona’s inclusion in the first team were Edgar Rivera-Morales and Nick Ross, who both qualified with top-eight finishes in the high jump.

The Wildcats return to the track this weekend to begin the outdoor portion of the season by hosting the Willie Williams Classic.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)