March 13, 2004
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Washington's Brad Walker put the perfect capstone on an outstanding career Saturday, successfully defending his NCAA indoor pole vault title on the final day of competition at the 2004 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Walker's win, combined with senior Eric Garner's eighth-place finish in the mile Saturday and Kate Soma's fifth-place pole vault performance on Friday, gives the Huskies three indoor individual-event All-Americans for the first time since 1988.
The 11 points scored by Walker and Garner gave the Huskies a 20th-place finish, while the UW women placed 37th with 3.5 points. LSU upset host Arkansas for the men's title with 44.5 points, while LSU captured its third-straight indoor crown with a score of 52.
The night, however, belonged to Walker, who bettered the Olympic qualifying standard with a clearance of 18-8 1/2. The senior has exhausted his collegiate eligibility, and is expected to officially turn pro in the coming weeks.
Walker's first-attempt clearance at 18-8 1/2 - among the top-10 marks in the world this year - gave the senior his second national title, a feat matched by only three other athletes in UW history. The Spokane, Wash, native won last year's NCAA indoor crown with a Pac-10 record clearance of 19-0 1/4 that was the world's third-best indoors, but missed the outdoor championships with a broken hand.
"Brad came back this year to do something that no one has done at Washington in 25 years - successfully defend a national title," said head coach Greg Metcalf. "He's been totally focused all year on peaking at this event, and when Brad is focused, no one is going to top him."
After winning the NCAA title in 2003 by nearly nine inches, Walker faced a stiffer test Saturday, with 15 vaulters in the field ranked within six inches of the Husky senior.
After missing his first attempt of the competition, at 17-8 1/2, Walker nailed four consecutive vaults to wrest the lead from Oregon freshman Tommy Skipper, the national leader entering the competition. With just Walker and Skipper remaining at 18-8 1/2, the Husky nailed the height on his first attempt, followed shortly by a Skipper miss.
With both vaulters having one miss in the competition, and Walker ahead at the current height, Skipper elected to pass his remaining two jumps to the next height, knowing that a clearance at 18-8 1/2 would still leave him behind the Husky senior in the pole vault tiebreaker. When Skipper missed on both of his attempts at 19-0 1/4 - Walker's Pac-10 record height of a year before - Walker was declared the winner.
"This is a terrific accomplishment for an outstanding kid," Metcalf said. "Brad's going to go to the Olympic Trials in July as one of about 6-7 guys fighting for those three spots. If there's one thing he's proven throughout his career, though, it's that he's at his best when the pressure's turned up. I thank him for everything he's given us over the years, and I can't wait to see what he's going to do in his professional career."
As Walker prepared for his first attempt, teammmate Eric Garner blazed around the track in 4 minutes, 5.85 seconds to earn his second-career All-America honor with an eighth-place finish in the mile. Wanting to set a fast pace, Garner remained with the leaders for the first half of the race, and came through the 800-meter mark fourth in 2:02. Indiana's Sean Jefferson - who won the event in 4:00.16 - led a massive charge to the lead that shuffled the leaders back in the pack, but Garner sprinted past hometown favorite Chris Mulvaney of Arkansas to clinch the eighth spot.
"Eric's a competitor, so I know he'll feel he could have done better, but to earn All-America honors in the mile at this meet takes a lot of guts, and he showed that today with the way he finished his race," Metcalf said.
The indoor season concluded, Washington's track and field teams will head to California next week to kick off the outdoor season at the Cal Poly Invitational. For complete results of the 2004 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, visit www.ncaasports.com