PULLMAN, Wash. – Jax Thoirs and Aaron Nelson both won at the Mooberry Track Complex just two weeks ago, helping the Husky men’s track team to a win in the Dual Meet against Washington State. Returning to Pullman, Thoirs and Nelson were victorious once again, only this time it came against the entire Pac-12 conference. Thoirs flew to a thrilling win in the pole vault, and then Nelson charged to a convincing win in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, giving the Dawgs a great start to the two-day conference meet, hosted by Washington State for the first time since 2002.
The Huskies could be said to dominate the Pac-12 men’s steeplechase and pole vault when the Cougars are the hosts. Back in 2002, the last time the meet was here, Washington’s Mike Hill won the steeplechase and Brad Walker won the pole vault. Nelson’s win was the first in the steeple since Hill’s win, however Thoirs adds to a run of four titles in the past six years for Husky men’s vaulters.
The wins, boosted by a big point total in the men’s javelin where Quinn Hale was runner-up, put the Husky men in second-place after day one. Oregon leads with 70.25 with Washington second with 40.25 points ahead of Arizona’s 30 and USC’s 29 points. The Husky women had 12 points on the day to sit 10th overall, with Oregon leading on the women’s side as well with 64.
Thoirs came into the vault ranked second in the conference and fourth in the NCAA, behind defending champion Michael Woepse of UCLA. Coming off a PR last week at the Ken Shannon Invite of 18-4 ½, Thoirs was feeling confident, but it nearly turned disastrous as he missed his first two attempts of the day at 16-8 ¾. He crept over on his third try, and from there began to relax and soar over the bar. He made 17-4 ½ on his second attempt, and then took the lead with an easy first attempt make at 17-8 ½.
With three vaulters remaining, Thoirs maintained his hold over the lead with a first try make at 17-8 ½. Woepse and Derick Hinch of Arizona State both cleared but needed three tries. Thoirs then came out and flew well over 18-0 ½ with lots of room to spare. Woepse and Hinch were unable to match and Thoirs clinched the win. He then had the bar raised to 18-6 ½, but admitted afterwards that clinching the win took some of the energy out of him, as he was unable to get another PR.
“It was a strange competition. I got off to a nervous start, but then things started rolling and I just got better with each jump," said Thoirs. "I had a good warm up so I knew it was going to come. I was obviously very happy to win in the end. (Winning this title) was one of my big goals when I came to Washington so to get that so early in my time here is just amazing."
Thoirs reacts to his easy make at 17-8 1/2, seeming to say "Are you not entertained?"
This is the fourth win in the pole vault in the past six years for the Huskies, all going to different vaulters, all coached by Pat Licari. Adding the two titles for Brad Walker in 2002 and 2003 gives UW six wins in the event in 13 years. One of those champions, 2012 winner J.J. Juilfs, had his best day of the season today as well, as he looks to be fully healthy and jumping well again. Juilfs had consecutive season-bests, clearing 17-0 ¾ on his first try, and then making 17-4 ½ on his third attempt to wind up fifth today, and secure a trip to NCAA West Prelims. Chris Williams also cleared a season-best 16-2 ¾ to finish in a four-way tie for eighth, getting a quarter of a point.
Nelson, the Walla Walla product, became the first Husky men’s cross country All-American in fifteen years this past fall when he took 20th at the national meet. He now earns the first steeplechase title for the Huskies in a dozen years. Nelson was near the back of the pack through the first couple laps, and had to be patient to find room to get out of the pack and work his way up the field. Halfway through the race he had moved to the back of a group of five runners that had broken away from the rest of the field.
With just under two laps to go, Nelson and Colorado’s Blake Theroux moved past Oregon’s Tanguy Pepiot who had led for most of the race. Nelson then made a move to take the lead, and he kept up a five meter lead for most of the last lap, sprinting down the homestretch for the win in 8:49.09, a new career-best. Sophomore Tim Cummings had been in the lead pack throughout as well, but injured himself over a barrier late in the race and had to drop out.
“I wanted to really exercise patience, so I found myself in the back, which wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but I was able to progressively move to the front with the goal of coming to 600-meters with the lead so I could start charging for the win. I tried to dial it down every 200-meters and tried to keep getting more effort into it, and it was enough to win today, I’m really excited about it.
“I can’t even explain it,” when Nelson was asked how it felt to be a Pac-12 Champion. “It’s the ultimate reward for all the hard work we’ve been doing. It’s a big honor to win, and I’m really looking forward to the next couple years.”
The men’s javelin has been UW’s bread and butter in the throws at Pac-12s for several years now, and the trend continued with three point scorers led by runner-up Quinn Hale. On his third attempt, Hale tossed 231-6 to move up to second-place where he would remain. It’s the second-best throw of his career. The Tacoma native was fourth as a freshman then sixth last year, before getting to the podium for the first time today. Close behind was sophomore Carson Fuller, who tossed 221-10 on his second attempt. Sophomore Curtis Clauson finished seventh as he did two years ago, throwing 214-2 on his first attempt of the day.
Just before Nelson made his run for the Pac-12 title, junior Liberty Miller showed her own steeplechase prowess, earning a spot on the podium with a career-best third-place finish. Miller, who ranks second on the Husky top-10 list and made the NCAA semis in the event last year, ran a season-best 10:18.56 to take third today, earning six points.
The last point scorer of the night was fifth-year senior Lindsay Flanagan. Fifth in this race as a sophomore in 2011, and third one year ago, Flanagan had another gritty effort tonight to finish fourth in 34-minutes, 47.32-seconds. She went with Arizona’s Elvin Kibet who broke away from the field early, and it was just the two of them for several laps, but Flanagan and Kibet both fell back after a couple kilometers. Flanagan would not give up any more ground, however, settling into a good rhythm to end up fourth. It was a tougher night for 2013 5k champ Megan Goethals, who led the chase pack for several laps but dropped back to finish 10th. Kaylee Flanagan was also 14th and Breanna Huschka took 18th in her last race as a Husky and first Pac-12 appearance since 2010.
For the first time since Ben Lindsey won the Pac-10 title in 2000, the Huskies earned a point in the men’s shot put. Sophomore Brian Hutchison finished eighth to take home a point in his Pac-12 debut, throwing 53-11 ¼.
Freshman Ashley Alexander came through with a point for the women in her first Pac-12 meet, as she used her sixth and final attempt to throw the javelin 148-7, moving up from ninth to eighth to grab the last point. Koryn Andrus was 14th at 125-4 and Brooke Brown was 15th at 124-0. In the women’s shot put, sophomore Alyx Toeaina could not grab hold of one, throwin 43-6 to finish 15th.
Washington also had some outstanding performances in prelims today that should give them a lot of momentum heading into Sunday. The best of the bunch was in the men’s 800-meters, where Derrick Daigre, Izaic Yorks, and fifth-year senior Brad Whitley will now make up three of the eight finalists on Sunday. All three will be in the final for the first time, but it was especially sweet for Whitley. Running in the first of three heats, Whitley took third, breaking 1:50 for the first time in his career and doing it easily at 1:49.64. He then had to wait through the next two heats to make sure his time would hold up. Whitley watched as Daigre won the second heat in 1:49.74, and then Yorks also got the win in heat three in 1:50.55, and Whitley’s time was good.
“It was a big statement from us today,” said Whitley. “Especially from where we were as a group in my younger years. It means a lot to me to not only PR and make the final, but to have a couple of my training partners and best friends make the final with me. That’s pretty awesome. To see Derrick win, see Izaic win, on a nice sunny day in my home area code, can’t beat that.”
The Dawgs placed two into the women’s 1,500-meter finals, led by junior Katie Flood, who looked confident and comfortable finishing second in her prelim heat in 4:26.42. Junior Eleanor Fulton made her first final, as she grabbed the 12th and final qualifying spot in 4:28.32. Sophomore Erin Johnson also ran a PR of 4:28.94 to take 14th overall.
On the men’s side, UW was hoping to put several bodies in the final, but one of the deepest fields in the conference proved tough to crack. Redshirt freshman Nick Harris was able to make it through, however, running 3:49.81 to grab the final time qualifier. Redshirt frosh Blake Nelson had the 12th-best time of the day, but one slower heat put three autos into the final in front of him, bumping Nelson out.
In the women’s 400-meter hurdles, junior Gianna Woodruff posted the fastest qualifying time of the day, running 58.55 seconds to win her heat. Senior Kayla Stueckle had a tough prelim, but squeezed into the final in the last spot. Sophomore Krista Armstead was 10th overall in 1:01.38, a new PR.
The men’s 4x100-meter relay got the eighth and final qualifying spot for Sunday, but sophomore Quadelle Satterwhite was hurt later in the day in the 100m prelims so the team’s status will be in question. Chris Williams led off the relay, and also got the eighth qualifying spot in the 110m hurdles, running 14.58 seconds.
Also in the sprints, junior Haley Jacobson was 14th in both the 100-meter and 200-meter prelims. In the 100m, she ran a PR of 11.82-seconds to move up to No. 5 all-time at UW. Sophomore Travis Marshall had a solid run of 10.69 seconds in the 100-meters, finishing 11th overall. Lucas Strong was 20th in 10.96 seconds. In the men’s 400m hurdles, Kaid Tipton was 10th overall, a couple spots short of the final, in 54.28 seconds.
The Huskies were unable to break into point positions in the men’s long jump or women’s high jump. Senior Julian Bardwell finished 12th, jumping 22-11 ¾, while Kasen Covington had three fouls. Jaleecia Roland and Elizabeth Quick both cleared 5-3 ¼ in the high jump, placing them 12th and 13th, respectively.
The action resumes again tomorrow at 11 a.m. with field events and 12 p.m. with track events. The meet will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks tape delayed next Sunday.
2014 Pac-12 Track & Field Championships
May 17, 2014 – Day 1 of 2
Pullman, Wash. – Mooberry Field
Husky Top-Eight Finishers
1. Aaron Nelson, 3,000m Steeplechase, 8:49.09 (Pac-12 Champion)
1. Jax Thoirs, Pole Vault, 18-0 ½ (Pac-12 Champion)
2. Quinn Hale, Javelin, 231-6
4. Carson Fuller, Javelin, 221-10
5. J.J. Juilfs, Pole Vault, 17-4 ½
7. Curtis Clauson, Javelin, 214-2
8 (tie). Chris Williams, Pole Vault, 16-2 ¾
8. Brian Hutchison, Shot Put, 53-11 ¼
3. Liberty Miller, Steeplechase, 10:18.56
4. Lindsay Flanagan, 10,000m, 34:47.32
8. Ashley Alexander, Javelin, 148-7
Huskies Advancing To Sunday Finals
Brad Whitley, 800m, 1:49.64
Derrick Daigre, 800m, 1:49.74
Izaic Yorks, 800m, 1:50.55
Nick Harris, 1,500m, 3:49.81
Chris Williams, 110m Hurdles, 14.58
4x100m Relay, 41.13
Katie Flood, 1,500m, 4:26.42
Eleanor Fulton, 1,500m, 4:28.32
Gianna Woodruff, 400m Hurdles, 58.55
Kayla Stueckle, 400m Hurdles, 1:00.36