AZ colleges finish strong at weekend in-state T&F events

The warm weather this weekend brought out some of the best performances of the season by Arizona’s three Division I colleges, as the two Pac-12 schools hosted annual events that provide top-level competition without leaving the state.

University of Arizona hosted the Jim Click Shootout at Roy P. Drachman Stadium, while the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks rolled down the mountain to compete in the Sun Angel Classic, hosted by Arizona State.

Arizona turned out to be greedy hosts for its event, which drew a number of nationally-ranked teams that included the No. 5 Texas men’s team, the No. 9 women’s team from Stanford, and the No. 20 Kansas State men.  Both of the Wildcat teams are ranked, the women at No. 5 and the men at No. 21.

The Wildcats won 10 events during the three-day event, with the women’s team taking first place overall with 188 points, comfortably ahead of runner-up Stanford, which finished with 135 points.  The UofA men finished in fourth.

Shapri Romero, a junior sprinter from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, stole the show in Tucson, winning both the 200 meters and 400 meters and also running a leg on the winning 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams.  She clocked a time of 52.37 in the 400-meter run, which ranks now as the No. 1 time in the country this season, and her 23.50 in the 200 is the fifth-best time in school history.

Germe Poston, who joined Romero, Traci-Lynn Hicks, and Tamara Pridgett from Rincon High in Tucson on the 4×100 team, also won the 100-meter dash in a personal-best time of 11.47 that ranks her third on the all-time school list.

The Cats also picked up points in the distance events, as sophomore Stephanie Bulder won the women’s  3,000-meter steeplechase (10:46.21), while Sam Macaluso finished first in the men’s 1,500 meters with a personal-best time of 3:50.82 and Jen Bergman won the women’s event in 4:29.50.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, ASU was putting on the 34th edition of the Sun Angel Classic and celebrated the event with fireworks on the final day and left the track littered with broken records.

This year’s Classic drew more than a thousand entries from almost two dozen colleges and universities across the country, which makes it one of the largest in the nation.  In addition, a field of 50 high school teams put 3,000 entries into that portion of the two-day event.

The No. 8-ranked ASU women’s squad competed against a handful of other nationally-ranked teams that included No. 1 Kansas, No. 11 Arkansas, No. 16 Illinois, No. 23 Oklahoma, and No. 24 Colorado.  The men’s field included No. 15 Oklahoma and the No. 18-ranked Sun Devils.

Christabel Nettey, a senior from Canada, and Shelby Houlihan, a sophomore from Iowa, were a two-person wrecking crew as they took down some of the oldest records in the ASU history books.

Nettey, the runner-up this year in the indoor long jump at the NCAA Championships, broke a school record that was set back in 1989 on her first jump at the weekend event, clearing 6.69m.  And then she cleared 6.75m (22’01.75″) twice, which matched the meet and Sun Angel Stadium records that have stood for 30 years.

Houlihan used a 4:13.64 clocking in the 1,500-meter run to destroy the 14-year-old school record of 4:17.98.  That gives Houlihan the ASU records in the 800m, mile, and 1,500 meters.

Both marks by Houlihan and Nettey move them into the national lead in the events.  The Sun Devils now have five on the women’s team ranked as No. 1 in their respective events, including Anna Jelmini in the discus, Keia Pinnick in the heptathlon, and Chelsea Cassulo in the hammer throw.

On the men’s side, Ryan Milus ran a 10.29 in the 100-meter dash to win that event and Nick Happe finished as the top collegian in the 1,500 meters with a time of 3:42.78 that is the fourth-fastest time in ASU history.  Milus is a redshirt junior from Hamilton High School in Chandler.

And the strong performance by Northern Arizona was led by a freshman who immediately earned a spot in the school’s outdoor record books.  Isatu Fofanah won both the women’s 200-meter dash in a time of 23.77 and finished runner-up in the 100 by clocking a sizzling 11.63.

Fofanah, another runner from Canada, now holds the second-best mark in school history in both events.  And she has three more years to move to the top.

Teammate Darriel Banks, a sophomore from Las Vegas, contributed more points in the sprints with a 11.73 in the 100 meters and 24.19 in the 200, both good enough for third-place finishes.  The 11.73 puts her third on the NAU all-time list in the 100.

Lauren Laszczak, a junior from Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson, won the women’s high jump with a leap of 5’10”.

Runner-up finishes came from Rolonda Jumbo in the women’s 5,000 meters (17:02.48), Matt League in the men’s 1,500 (3:55.12) and Bahibi Gebreyohanns in the 5,000 meters (14:37.18).  All three are part of the youth movement in the program.  Jumbo and League are both freshmen – Jumbo a well-known local runner from Chinle High School – and Gebreyohanns is a sophomore.

“Eight months ago I told these athletes they could run times like this, and they looked at me like I was crazy,” said assistant coach Kenny McDaniel after the races had been run.  This is the first year at NAU for McDaniel, who came to the Flagstaff campus after five years on staff at ASU to work with the sprinters and hurdlers.

“Today is an outstanding day because it shows that our hard work is paying off.  And what I like about it is that now they’re starting to believe in the system and in themselves.

“Once that starts to happen, the sky’s the limit.”

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)