June 10, 2006
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Ryan Brown won the 800 meters and Amy Lia won the 1,500 meters Saturday at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, highlighting the single-winningest day in Washington's 85-year history at the NCAA meet. Two Huskies won NCAA titles Saturday and seven earned All-America honors - both single-day records for a UW team at the NCAA Championships.
Brown and Lia are just the fifth pair of UW teammates to win NCAA titles in the same year, and the first since 1929 to do so exclusively in events on the track. Prior to Saturday, only one Husky had won an NCAA title in a track event since 1975, and just two had done so since 1930.
Washington has had 27 NCAA champions all-time, including at least one in each of the last four seasons. Kate Soma won the NCAA pole vault title in 2005, and Brad Walker won NCAA indoor pole vault titles in 2003 and 2004.
Unlike Soma and Walker, however - each of whom entered their national meets on the short list of favorites - neither Brown nor Lia were among the top-eight national seeds in their events, and both trailed by significant margins on their final laps.
Seeded ninth nationally in the 800, Renton native Brown ran sixth for much of the race, and was three meters behind the leaders as they passed through 400 meters in 51.6 seconds - a blistering 1 minute, 42-second pace. With 150 meters to go, Brown made his move, stepping to the outside of lane one and passing the leaders at the 100-meter mark, then accelerating to the finish line for a two-meter win.
Brown's winning time of 1 minute, 46.29 seconds - nearly a full second faster than the 24-year old UW record of 1:47.21 - was a full three tenths ahead of runner-up Tim Bayley of Iona. It is the third-fastest mark by an American men's runner this year, and the fastest by a collegiate runner since the 2005 season.
Brown said afterward that he had planned to settle in behind the leaders, before unleashing the famous finishing kick that carried him to Pac-10 and NCAA West Regional titles in 2005.
"I felt with 300 to go that I had it - I was right where I wanted to be, with room to move outside, and I knew no one could outsprint me over the last 100," he said. "I knew when I hit the straight, and the Iona guy wasn't in my periphery anymore, that I had it.
"I won the national championship," Brown added, still unable to contain his smile 10 minutes after the race. "That's a wonderful feeling."
Making the win even more significant is the fact that Brown left the sport for a year in 2003, citing a desire to focus on school over sports. In just 16 months since his return in 2005, Brown has won Pac-10, West Regional and NCAA titles, and has earned six All-America honors, a total surpassed by just two athletes - sprinter Ja'Warren Hooker (10) and hammer thrower Scott Neilson (7) -- in UW history.
"Pac-10, West Regional, NCAA titles - there's not much more you can do than that," Brown said. "It feels good; it feels complete."
Lia felt the same barely an hour later after coming from 25 meters back in the final 250 meters to pull off one of the largest upsets of the national meet. The 12th-place finisher at last year's NCAA meet, Lia squeaked into the finals after a fifth-place finish in Friday's semi-final, and was the lowest-seeded of any competitor in the final.
Running last with 250 meters to go, Lia suddenly surged forward, gaining 15 meters on the leaders in a 50-meter span entering the corner.
"It looked like she was shot out of a cannon," head coach Greg Metcalf observed.
Just as Brown had done an hour before, Lia caught the leaders -- including favorite Natalie Hughes of Florida State - at the 100-meter mark, took one look over her shoulder and sprinted to the finish, staring almost in surprise as her name appeared atop the scoreboard.
"I died in the prelim, and so I said going into today that I wasn't going to be the girl getting passed by everyone at the end; instead, I decided to wait and try and make a move with 250 to go," she said. "As soon as I went, I felt great. I saw those three girls at the front and just thought, `If I'm going to do this, I might as well just go all out.' At 100 meters I passed them and took a quick look just to see if they were going to make a move, then went straight to the finish line. It was awesome."
Lia crossed the line in 4:14.63 - more than a half-second ahead of Villanova's Marina Muncan and nearly four seconds faster than her previous lifetime best. The time is the fastest this year in the collegiate ranks by nearly a full second, the ninth-fastest by an American woman in 2006, and the seventh-fastest in Pac-10 Conference history.
"I mean, I just can't believe I won," Lia said, laughing. "I haven't really had a chance to let it sink in yet. This is crazy."
It was a head-turning day for fans of Washington track, as a record seven Huskies earned All-America honors on a single day. In addition to the wins by Lia and Brown, Juan Romero placed 11th in the javelin, and the 4x400-meter relay team of Brown, Jordan Boase, Shane Charles and Bruce Jackson placed eighth.
Brown's All-America double, when added to those he earned indoors in the 4x400- and distance medley relays in March, made him just the second Husky in history to earn four such honors in one year. Hooker also earned four All-America honors, including three indoors and one outdoors, in 1998.
The Huskies' seven All-Americans Saturday brought the team's four-day total to nine, equaling the school's all-time outdoor championships record set in 1983. Furthermore, the Huskies' total of 19 All-Americans in 2006 - including 10 at March's NCAA Indoor meet - broke by three the single-season record of 16 set just last year.
Those strong performances lifted Washington's men into a tie for 22nd in the team standings with 11 points, while the UW women tied for 20th with 12 points. Florida State won its first-ever NCAA men's team title with 67 points, routing runner-up LSU (51) while Auburn (57) defeated USC (38.5) for the women's crown.
"What an amazing day," said Metcalf. "We came into this meet with so much promise, so to see it pay off with two national titles and nine All-America honors is a terrific thing. This is the second year in a row that we've set a record for All-Americans, so hopefully we're building a tradition whereby this kind of success becomes the expectation, instead of something historic. We want to make a new kind of history at Washington, one where we have NCAA champions every year and are competing for team titles. We're not there yet, but we're getting very, very close."
For complete results of the 2006 NCAA Track and Field Championships, visit www.GoHuskies.com.
2006 NCAA Track and Field Championships
Hornet Stadium; Sacramento, Calif.
June 8, 2006