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Azusa Pacific and Oklahoma Baptist win outdoor track championships

May 26, 2007
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May 26, 2007

Saturday -- May 26, 2007 (7:30 p.m. PDT)
FRESNO, Calif. -- Call it a reversal of fortune.

Back in March Azusa Pacific University (Calif.) and Oklahoma Baptist University won the NAIA indoor men's and women's track & field championships, respectively. Now, nearly three months later, the two track & field powers traded titles at the 57th Annual NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championship Meet on the campus of Fresno Pacific University. Oklahoma Baptist used a strong final day of competition to win its first men's outdoor championship in 17 years, and Azusa Pacific exceeded its own expectations to claim its third women's crown in the past five years.

Midway through Saturday's competition, OBU scored 29 points between just two events -- the 200 meters and 400-meter hurdles -- to overtake Azusa Pacific for the lead in the men's race. The Bison then cruised in for the men's national championship, finishing with 77 points. Three-time defending national champion Dickinson State University (N.D.) was second with 58 points, while Azusa Pacific was third with 51 points.

"It's been our goal to win the national title but we wanted to enjoy the journey, not just the day we won," said Oklahoma Baptist Head Coach Ford Matson, who was named the NAIA men's outdoor coach of the year. "Getting second at indoors was great motivation, and the fact that we don't have our own track this year makes this extra special. It's been an adventure this year to get to this point."

In the women's competition, Azusa Pacific scored 38 points in just three events today to finish with 73 points for the entire meet. Out of competitors and with still two hours of the meet to stage, the Cougars sat back and watched the rest of the field as they held on to their commanding lead. Cedarville University (Ohio) rallied to finish second with 58 points for its best showing ever at an NAIA championship meet, and Oklahoma Baptist was third with 55 points, edging Sooner Athletic Conference rival Wayland Baptist University (Texas), which was fourth with 54 points.

"This is one of those meets in which everything fell our way," said Azusa Pacific Women's Head Coach Mike Barnett, who was named the NAIA women's outdoor coach of the year. "Coming into the season I thought that maybe we were a fourth- through sixth-place team, but hard work and tradition carried this team. They trained hard and competed well today, and we fired on every cylinder."

The determining factor in Azusa Pacific's title chase came in the today's finals of the 1500 meters, steeplechase and 400-meter hurdles. Cross Country All-American Whitney Jacobsmeyer took advantage of an opponent's slip in the water pit to finish third in the steeplechase with an 11:00.70. In the 1500, sophomore Jaime Canterbury rallied over the final 300 meters to finish second with a 4:30.43. The Cougars got a bonus four points with Olivia Richert finishing fifth in the same race at 4:34.79. Finally, senior Lorraine Swaby won the 400-meter hurdles with a school-record 59.81 to clinch the title for Azusa Pacific.

"No one saw this national championship coming, and that's what makes it so great," said Swaby. "Even though we are so few in numbers, we knew we were ready to do well because our coaches are such great examples and make us want to win."

Oklahoma Baptist thought it may have let the men's title slip through its hands as early as Thursday evening when their favored 4x800-meter relay failed to get out of the prelims.

"I kept a promise to some guys who qualified but usually don't get to compete to let them run at the national meet," said Matson, "and I thought it may have cost us. I have never prayed to win until that day. But we got terrific performances in the decathlon (Jonathon Hilton finishing second in just his third decathlon ever) and in the 10,000 meters (Theron Stoltzfus finishing fourth) to give us an eight-point swing that really helped."

Individual honors were awarded David Cheromei of Virginia Intermont and Mike Rodgers of Oklahoma Baptist, who were named the men's co-outstanding performers. Ruky Abdulai of Simon Fraser University (B.C.) was named the women's outstanding performer. Cheromei won his third consecutive NAIA steeplechase crown, putting him in company with Kregg Einspahr of Concordia University (Neb., 1980-82) and George Ondimu of Life University (Ga., 2000-02) as the only athletes ever to capture three straight steeplechase titles. He set the meet record of 8:40.03 in the prelims. He closed the meet by winning the 5000 meters with a 14:31.31 to successfully defend his title. Rodgers won the 100 meters yesterday with a 10.21, took second in today's 200 meters with a 20.95, and then anchored OBU to a victory in the 4x100-meter relay with a stadium-record performance of 40.32.

Abdulai tallied 30 of Simon Fraser's 47 points, winning the women's long jump (21' 11 ¾") Thursday before winning the high jump (6' 0 ¾") and the 400 meters (stadium record 52.40) today.

In other individual performances, Cornerstone University (Mich.) may not have a track facility but that didn't keep Golden Eagle senior Derek Scott from becoming the school's first NAIA champion. Scott ran a masterful race, holding off three other runners down the stretch, to win the 1500 meters in a stadium-record time of 3:45.50.

Mark Hollis of Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.) became the first repeat champion in the men's pole vault in 16 years when he cleared 17' 5 ¾" to win the event by more than 18 inches.

Meredith MacGregor of Simon Fraser University (B.C.) easily won the women's steeplechase, leading throughout the entire race and finishing with a stadium-record 10:33.25, more than 13 seconds ahead of second-place Jen Kempers of Dordt College (Iowa), who registered a 10:46.51.

In the early morning hours, before the temperatures moved well into the 90 degrees, the marathon was staged through the streets of Fresno, and native Californians rose to the occasion. For the second straight year, a Westmont College (Calif.) athlete claimed the women's title. Junior Anna Stumbo, who endured a sore knee throughout much of the season, completed her first-ever marathon, clocking a 2:51:31 for the victory. Concordia University's (Calif.) Marco Venancio won the men's marathon with a 2:21.58, beating Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.) freshman Ryan Richert (2:25:24) by nearly 4 minutes.

Led by freshman Keliesha Ross' anchor leg, Wayland Baptist University (Texas) held off conference rival Oklahoma Baptist University to win the 4x100-meter relay with a 46.21. OBU was second by the narrowest of margins at 46.22. The victory was WBU's first in the 4x100 since the 1986 NAIA championship meet.

A day after anchoring Olivet Nazarene to a victory in the 4x800-meter relay, junior Bethany McCoy came back to win the women's 1500 meters, running away with the title with a stadium-record 4:25.87. Azusa Pacific's Jamie Canterbury was second at 4:30.43, overcoming ONU's Carmin Green with 550 meters to go after Green slipped in the water pit.

Cornerstone's Stephanie Allers won the women's 200 meters with a 24.80.

Meet host Fresno Pacific had cause for celebration after going one-two in the women's shot put. Fresno native Dia Matthews captured the title with an FPU record put of 47' 11" while fellow senior Karley Kalinich, who won the hammer on Thursday, finished second in the shot at 47' 5 ¼".

For complete final results of the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships go to CFPI Timing & Data. For more detailed information on the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, go to the NAIA website. For audio and video highlights of the meet, visit Fresno.edu/naia2007.