May 16, 2009
EUGENE, Ore. - A trio of dominant performances by Husky track and field stars resulted in three individual titles on day one of the Pac-10 Championships at Oregon's Hayward Field. Scott Roth soared to the men's pole vault title and Mel Lawrence and Anita Campbell reasserted the UW women's distance stranglehold on the conference with huge victories in the steeplechase and 10,000-meter run.
Roth secured his first career Pac-10 title when he was the only vaulter to make it over 17-feet, 11-inches. But the sophomore did not stop there, as he then cleared a new personal-best 18-4 ½ on his first attempt. That vault was the second-best in the NCAA this season and tied for the 10th-best in the world in 2009.
With momentum on his side, Roth had the bar raised to 18-9 ½, which would have been the best mark by a collegian this year and a school record, but on his first attempt, the bar was knocked off by a gust of wind as Roth started his vault, and he came down awkwardly on the ground on the aborted attempt. Roth was fine, but chose to call it a day after that.
Roth joins Olympian Brad Walker as the only UW champions in the pole vault in the past 30 years. Walker won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. Also vaulting great for the men today was senior Jared O'Connor, who placed fourth with a clearance of 17-5, and junior Ryan Vu who was eighth at 17-0 ¾.
"Things went very well for me today," said Roth. "This is my first big win, I've vaulted at Nationals and things like that, but I've never won a big meet so it's very exciting for me. These were some of the best conditions I've jumped in in my entire life. The crowd gives you energy, plus warm temperatures, family and teammates cheering me on, there was a good tailwind, and it's Pac-10's, so all of that gets you amped up."
In the women's steeplechase, redshirt freshman Mel Lawrence ran away from the field and set a new Pac-10 meet record of 9:54.13 in just the second steeplechase of her college career. The win surely made her coaches proud, although the previous meet record was held by current UW assistant coach Kelly Strong from her days at Arizona State. Lawrence's time is the second-fastest mark in Pac-10 history.
Lawrence went to the front from the moment the gun was fired. She held the lead for several laps until USC's Zsofia Erdelyi made a move to the front. Her lead would not last for even a full lap, however, as Lawrence picked up the pace and really started stretching her lead until she wound up winning by nearly 20 seconds. This is the first ever Pac-10 steeplechase title for a Husky woman.
"I definitely wanted to get down to something around 10-flat. I thought that would give me a chance to win," said Lawrence. "I was feeling really good, really relaxed. I wasn't sure what to expect, it's just my second steeple of the year, but I think my coaches have prepared me pretty well for it. I was trying to work to a thousand meters to go. That's where I wanted to pick it up."
Lawrence, who had several notable second-place finishes in national meets during her All-American high school career, and also took second at this year's Pac-10 Cross Country Championships, was glad to be on top of the podium this time around.
"It feels really good (to win). Me and my high school coach, my sister, and my family joke that I'm always the bridesmaid, never the bride, so I'm really happy that I got this," Lawrence said.
Lawrence said that she and Coach Strong had brought up the record earlier in the week.
"(Coach Strong) told me this week that if her record was going to go down, she had a specific person she wanted it to go down to," said Lawrence.
In the last women's event of the evening, junior Anita Campbell earned her first career Pac-10 title by winning the 10,000-meter run by an incredible 61 seconds. Campbell had opened up a sizeable lead after just a few of the 25 required laps. She then maintained a 50-meter lead for most of the race, before the gap widened again towards the end. Campbell came across the line in 34-minutes, 13.27-seconds. Second-place Kate Niehaus of Stanford finished in 35-minutes, 14.24-seconds.
This is Campbell's first year running the 10k and it was just her second attempt at the distance this year. Last year at this time Campbell was sidelined with an injury, and a Pac-10 title to her name provided a great full-circle type feeling.
"Last year was really hard, I wasn't able to run at all, so this feels like redemption," said Campbell. "Coach Metcalf has been trying to get me to run 10k for three years now. My first couple years I wasn't ready, it's a big commitment, but now it's a good race for me."
Campbell becomes the third Husky woman to win the Pac-10 10k. Anna Aoki won in 1998 and 2001, and Kate Bradshaw took the title in 2000. Campbell's winning time was the fastest of all four, however. The wins from Lawrence and Campbell made the Dawgs two-for-two in distance events thus far in the meet, a familiar story from the fall when both women ran on UW's Pac-10 and NCAA Champion cross country team.
"To have two young women come here and win Pac-10 titles is something of an historic day," said head coach Greg Metcalf. "Mel Lawrence, in her first Pac-10 steeple, to break Coach Strong's meet record was very cool. Mel was patient, she ran classy, it was fantastic. Anita Campbell, that performance was just gnarly. She wins by 61 seconds in hot conditions, that's a dominating win and she is as tough a young woman as there is on the planet in my opinion."
Other significant scorers for the Huskies today included junior Zack Midles, who repeated his third-place finish in the hammer throw with a mark of 208-4. Sophomore Kyle Nielsen earned five points for a fourth-place finish in the javelin throw, his best throw traveling 230-5.
The Husky women got points from sophomore Brooke Pighin in the javelin, as she placed fifth with a best of 154-7. Freshman Kelly McNamee also matched her outdoor personal-best in the high jump with a clearance of 5-8 ¾. McNamee's clearance was bettered by only two competitors, but she took sixth overall based on misses.
Washington also had several terrific showings in the prelims of events that will be settled with Sunday finals. Senior Jordan Boase cruised to prelim heat wins in both the 200 and 400-meter dashes. He will be favored to win both titles on Sunday. Senior Austin Abbott and freshman Joey Bywater both advanced to the final in the men's 1,500-meter run, and senior Joseph Turner tied for the final qualifying spot into the men's 100m dash. Turner and Arizona State's Allante Battle will have to run a separate two-man final head tomorrow.
"Our men did a great job today," said Metcalf. "We had a couple near misses that might have earned us a few more points but many of our athletes really delivered today. Scott Roth winning the Pac-10 Championship, he's just a sophomore and vaulting 18-4, that's fantastic. Jared O'Connor and Ryan Vu also did great and scored for us so the men's vault gave us 16 points. Zack Midles and Kyle Nielsen each had top four finishes in the throws and we had several guys make finals so for our men I thought it was a very positive day."
Women's qualifiers today included junior Kailey Campbell who was very impressive with a qualifying run in the 1,500m prelims, followed by a win in her 800-meter heat. Junior Katie Follett, the defending conference champion at 1,500-meters, moved into the final with a routine second-place finish in her heat. Finally, freshman Christine Babcock ran the second-fastest 800m time in qualifying to move on to the final with Campbell.
Washington is gunning for top-five finishes for both teams this year after disappointing ninth-place finishes for both squads in 2008. After one day, the Husky men are fourth with 27 points and the women sit in fifth place with 33.
Action resumes Sunday at 12 p.m.