May 8, 2004
TUCSON, Ariz. - Washington junior Grace Vela overcame an oppressive heat and a talented field Saturday to earn a fourth-place finish in the heptathlon at the Pac-10 Championships at Arizona's Roy P. Drachman Stadium. The Toronto, Ont., native's 5,225 points were the second-most by a Canadian woman in 2004, and were just 41 points shy of Washington's school record in the event.
Vela's fourth-place finish was the best at the conference meet by a UW women's heptathlete since 1992, and scored the Huskies four points in the team standings, priming UW for a run at a top-five placing when the Pac-10 meet begins in earnest next weekend.
After earning personal-bests in all four of the events contested Friday, Vela stood fourth entering Saturday's final day of competition, just four points behind Washington State's Julie Pickler. A stumble by Pickler in the 800 meters, however, combined with an impressive day by Oregon's Abby Andrus, dropped the Cougar to sixth, while Andrus bypassed Vela for third, scoring 5,325 points. ASU's Jackie Johnson earned the Pac-10 title with a score of 5,603, and Cal's Brooke Meredith took second at 5,476.
Vela's score, a 200-point improvement over her previous UW best, moved the junior from third to second on Washington's all-time list, bypassing Angie Tasker's 5,186-point mark in 1989. Only Sonja Forster's 5,266 points stand between Vela and the school record, while Alberta native Kim Vanderhoek is the only Canadian woman to achieve a mark better than Vela's in 2004, her 5,793-point performance at Azusa in April standing as the current Canadian best.
"To see that kind of improvement from one meet to the next is exciting, because it suggests that she's capable of going even higher," said UW assistant coach Pat Licari, who mentors with Washington's multi-eventers. "The heat kept a lot of marks down today, or she might have knocked off that school record. Hopefully, she'll get another shot at it at the NCAA Championships in June."
Vela's mark currently ranks 22nd on the list of NCAA Championships provisional qualifiers in the heptathlon, which is one of two events -- along with the 10,000 meters -- that is not subject to qualifying at the NCAA Regional meets later this month. The NCAA can select as many or as few provisionally-qualified athletes as it wishes from the list to fill out the NCAA Championships field; last year, Championships invitations were extended to the top-27 athletes on the list.
The heptathlon concluded, Vela will return to the Pac-10 Championships next weekend with her full team behind her for the main portion of the meet, which begins Friday and concludes Saturday. For a complete list of UW's Pac-10 qualifiers and their current conference rankings, visit www.gohuskies.com.