May 30, 2003
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Washington sophomore Kate Soma on Friday recorded the sixth-best pole vault mark in Pac-10 history, and tops among all Washington vaulters, with a second-place clearance of 13 feet, 10 inches at the first-ever NCAA West Regional Championships at Stanford's Cobb Track and Angell Field.
Soma and discus thrower Mat Schwinn, who placed fifth, each earned automatic berths to next month's NCAA Championships, while several Husky runners placed themselves into position to qualify with outstanding performances in Friday's preliminary heats. Under the NCAA's new qualifying format, the top-five finishers in each individual event at each of the four Regional meets earn automatic NCAA Championships berths.
In just one day, Soma improved from seventh in the West Region in 2003 to fifth in the entire nation, clearing a height of 13-10 that would have given her the win in any of the other three Regional meets, but was only good for second due to a collegiate-record performance of 14-8 by Oregon's Becky Holliday.
"It's about time," said Soma, who broke by a stunning eight and a half inches the previous UW outdoor record of 13-1 ?˝, a mark Soma set as a freshman in 2002 and equaled earlier this season. "I've known all along that I could go higher than I had gone before, and to finally do it at such an important meet is just the best feeling.?
Soma cleared her opening two heights easily before struggling at 12 feet, 10 inches.
"She looked so good on her first two heights,? said Husky assistant coach Pat Licari, who works with UW's pole vaulters. "I knew that if she could just get past 12-10 on her third attempt, that she could go really high today.?
Soma proved her coach correct, clearing 12-10 on her final attempt before soaring well over the bar on her first attempt at 13-2. Nine of the 40 competitors in the field, however, matched Soma at 13-2, meaning the sophomore would have to clear the next height, 13-6, to have a chance at one of the five automatic NCAA Championship berths given out to the top-five finishers.
Vaulting last of the nine remaining competitors, Soma scraped the bar as she went over and watched it from the mat, leaping up with her hands in the air when the bar remained up. The story was much the same at 13-10, with Soma narrowly clearing the bar on her second attempt to a loud ovation from her fans and teammates.
"Wow, what a day for Kate Soma!? said first-year head coach Greg Metcalf. "Once she cleared 13-2 you could tell that nothing was going to stop her. She totally believes in herself right now, so there'>s no limit to what she can do at the national meet.?
Soma learned shortly after her event that she would have some company on the flight to Sacramento for the NCAAs, as senior Mat Schwinn earned the last of five automatic berths in the discus by the slimmest possible margin. The third-place finisher at the 2003 Pac-10 Championships, Schwinn entered the meet ranked sixth in the Region, needing to beat one competitor ahead of him to qualify for the national meet. Schwinn subsequently launched the discus 182 feet, 2 inches, edging Boise State's Steffan Jonsson by one inch for the fifth and final NCAA Championships berth.
"Three weeks ago, Mat Schwinn was ranked 11th in the Pac-10 in the discus, and here he is fifth in the entire West Region,? Metcalf said. He's worked so hard and is just on fire right now. I can't wait to see what he'll do for us next month at NCAAs.?
Meanwhile on the track, four Husky 1,500-meter runners put themselves in position to contend for automatic berths with stellar runs in Friday's preliminary heats.
Running in the second of three heats, Garner remained at the back of the pack for much of the race, a strategy that served the Kelso, Wash., native well at this year's Pac-10 Championships, where he finished third. Garner made a move to the front at the 1,000-meter mark, but was passed by two runners with just 200 meters remaining. The junior found a second burst, though, sprinting to the front again before being edged at the line by UCLA's Jon Rankin.
Russell employed a similar strategy, staying back for much of the third preliminary heat before angling outside at the 1,400-meter mark and making a final push for second. Russell, who finished in 3 minutes 47.64 seconds, was the fifth-fastest overall qualifier for Saturday's final, while Garner was 11th-fastest overall in 3:49.85
"Both John Russell and Eric Garner ran smart, tactical races today,? Metcalf said. "When Eric was passed late, he could have given up, but instead he dug deep and found the strength to get himself back to the front over the last 200 meters. Russell, meanwhile, was bunched inside with about 200 meters to go, and I wasn't sure he could get himself out. He did, though, and ran great down the home stretch for a terrific finish.?
The women's 1,500 meters also saw a pair of Huskies advance to Saturday's final, with senior Courtney Inman earning an automatic berth and sophomore Lindsey Egerdahl notching one of four provisional spots.
Both ran in the first heat, alongside defending NCAA champion Lena Nilsson of UCLA. The pack remained bunched through the first 1,200 meters before Nilsson pulled away. Inman went with her, placing second in 4:26.10, while Egerdahl took sixth in the heat in 4:30.74. Inman's time was the fourth-fastest of the day, while Egerdahl enters Saturday's final with the 11th-fastest time.
Rounding out the Huskies' action on the track was junior Todd Arnold, who entered the meet ranked 10th in the 800 meters but earned one of eight spots in the Saturday's final with a time of 1:50.35, seventh overall on the day.
"We had some kids really step up today and finish higher than their Regional ranking would have projected them,? Metcalf said. "With just five automatic berths on the line in each of those finals on Saturday, there's going to be some exciting racing, and anything can happen.?
Washington hammer throw record-holder Kameko Gay and junior triple jumper Brittiny Roberts will join the track qualifiers in seeking NCAA Championships berth on Saturday, the final day of NCAA West Regional competition.
For complete results of the NCAA West Regional, visit www.gostanford.com.