The Arizona track teams are still chasing the Oregon Ducks – but, then, so is every other school in the Pac-12. However, an impressive finish for both Arizona State and Arizona to the 2014 track & field season has taken some of the edge off dealing with the issue.
Oregon’s men left the Mooberry Track & Field Complex at Washington State, the site of the Pac-12 Championships, with their eighth straight title. And their women’s team made it six straight as both programs far outdistanced the competition.
The rest of the Pac-12 field has been competing for runner-up for the better part of a decade.
But Arizona State’s women tied with Stanford for third place this year and the Sun Devil men took fourth, while University of Arizona placed both of their teams in the top five as well, with the men finishing in third and the women in fifth.
Not too shabby when you consider that, after Oregon locks down its two spots, there are just eight more left in the top five – and half of those were filled by Arizona squads.
Oregon’s men’s team scored 163.25 points to win that side of the competition, while Arizona tallied 83 and ASU 80.75. The women Ducks won with 176 points and ASU and Stanford tied at 75 points and the Wildcats almost made it a three-way tie, finishing right on their heels with 74 points.
Leading the way for the No. 12-ranked ASU women’s team was junior distance runner, Shelby Houlihan, who defended her title in the 1500 meters (4:15.67) and then set a new personal-best mark in winning the 5000m event. Her time of 16:11.63 earned her a spot at No. 7 in the school record books and her double win is the first at a conference meet by an ASU athlete since 2009.
“Being a double champion in our conference in the distance events – in any event – is quite a feat,” said Ryan Cole, ASU’s distance coach. “It was a great weekend for Shelby, and for all our girls, and I can say that we’re very proud of them.”
Other Sun Devils who finished in the top three of their events included Alex Hartig on the women’s side, who threw the discus 179’11” for third place. And the top men were led by runner-up finishes from Bryan McBride in the high jump (7’3 1/4″), Josh Dixon in the triple jump (51’1 3/4″), and Ryan Milus in the 100 meters.
The men’s 4×400 relay team added a title as Keith Cleveland, Will Henry, Devan Spann, and Daveon Collins clocked a winning time of 3:07.10.
For the Wildcats, it was the record-setting senior, Lawi LaLang, that stole the show. The native of Kenya won his third straight title in the 1,500 meters with a time of 3:36.34 that is the best time in the country this year, and then won the 5,000-meter event in 13:41.44.
He is just the fourth athlete in conference history to win three titles in the 1,500 and his six conference championships overall during his college career is second only to Robert Cheseret – who also ran for UofA.
“It feels good (to win six titles), especially being a senior and heading to the professional level soon,” LaLang offered, “so getting those titles is really nice. I feel a lot of confidence going into regionals and nationals.”
Also on the men’s side, Nick Ross picked up a win in the high jump (7’7 3/4″) and a third place in the triple jump (50’10 1/4″), becoming just the second athlete in conference history to win three high-jump titles. The other is the man who invented today’s method of clearing the bar: Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized the sport with a backward jump that was quickly labeled the “Fosbury Flop” to replace the old roll-over method.
Freshman Miles Parish added a third-place finish in the 400-meter sprint with a personal-best time of 46.45.
Elvin Kibet and Nnenya Hailey led the women, as Hailey came in runner-up in the 400m hurdles (57.40) and Kibet added a third-place finish in the 5K (16:19.14). But the rest of the women’s top places went to the relay teams, as the 4×400 foursome of Hailey, Jasper Gray, Tamara Pidgett, and Shapri Romero took second with a time of 3:36.51, and the 4×100 squad (Pridgett, Romero, Traci-Lynn Hicks, Germe Poston) took third in 44.79.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)