Aggie Men Are WAC Champions, Women Finish Fourth
May 16, 2009
LOGAN, Utah - Utah State's men's team won the Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships at the Ralph Maughan Track Stadium, as the Aggies won their second outdoor conference crown in the last three years.
"It's always sweet to win at home, there's nothing like it; you get to win it in front of the people you work with, the people that love you and the people that admire the program. I think it's a treat for all of them because these kids are great kids and for them to win in front of their home crowd just makes it all the more sweeter," an ecstatic Gregg Gensel, USU's veteran head coach, who won his 23rd career Conference Coach of the Year Award, with his third such honor this year to go with his men's and women's cross country awards.
USU had 181 points, out-distancing second-place Idaho's 138 points. The 181 points is two shy of the 183 points in 2007 for the Aggies' most points while in the WAC and the 43-point margin is nearly identical USU's 42-point winning margin in 2007.
Louisiana Tech was third with 130 points, followed by Fresno State's 101 points, while defending champion Boise State was fifth with 97 points.
On the women's side, Utah State finished fourth with 112.50 points.
The Louisiana Tech women's team won their fifth-straight WAC title, finishing with 150 points, holding off a frenzied effort from Nevada, who was second with 129.50. Fresno State was third with 119 points, followed by USU (112.50), then fifth-place Hawai'i with 105.50, preceding New Mexico State (6th, 88 points), Idaho (7th, 58 points) and Boise State (8th, 54.50 points).
USU's women were fourth for the second year in a row, but this season the Aggie women had 112.50 points compared to 100 points last year, and the future is bright for USU.
"We're losing a few key people, but we certainly are going in the right direction. I'm pretty sure we're going in the right direction, but we only hope to get better in the future. I'm very proud of them because they had a heck of a meet," Gensel said.
The conference championship is Utah State's fifth WAC crown this year, joining the men's and women's cross country titles, women's soccer regular-season, men's basketball regular-season and tournament crowns, and now men's outdoor track & field The five conference titles is tied for the most in school history, tying 1994 and 1998, when USU was in the Big West Conference.
Home was definitely sweet home for Utah State, which won the conference meet in its home stadium for the second time in as many times hosting the conference meet. This weekend was the first time since 1996 that Utah State has hosted a conference track meet when USU hosted the Big West Championships. That season, both the Aggie men and women's teams won the team titles.
Saturday's efforts on the track and in the field were supported by a packed grandstand full of cheering and screaming fans.
"I like that support, it's great," Gensel said. "I was worried we wouldn't have enough stands and we had it packed. I'm really happy that I got the support from our administration to host this and they came through."
In addition to Gensel's individual award, freshman Brian McKenna earned the WAC's Freshman of the Year Award.
The Aggie men were boosted by two event champions Saturday in senior Nick Karren in the 400m hurdles and junior Steve Strickland in the 5,000m run, along with eight top three finishers for first-team all-WAC honors, as well as 14 second-team all-WAC award winners finishing fourth through sixth on Saturday.
Karren, the 2007 WAC 400m hurdles champion, out-leaned Fresno State's Kendrick Young at the line, finishing with a 50.87 time while Young had a 50.93. Karren's 400m hurdle championship was joined by a second-place finish in the 110m hurdles with a 14.19 time, a new personal-best and the fifth-fastest in USU history. Karren was also second in the 400m dash with a clocking of 47.40, also a new PR and the 10th-fastest mark on the school record list.
"I did the triple (400m dash, 400m hurdles and 110m hurdles), and the 110m hurdles was the biggest surprise for me because I was ranked sixth or seventh coming in and I ended up taking second so that was exciting. I was just going for points for the team in the 110's and ended up taking second and qualifying for regionals," Karren said.
Karren missed the 2008 outdoor season after surgery on his legs, so Saturday's return to the top the of podium was very rewarding for him.
"It's really nice to come back and win again. It's really good to be back running and winning again," Karren said.
Strickland ran a season-best 14:57.37 time in winning the 5,000m, his second title this weekend after winning his second 3,000m steeplechase in as many seasons on Friday.
Strickland pulled away from the pack on Saturday, in particular Fresno State's Paul Zwama and freshman teammate Brian McKenna, during the last lap.
"I've been practicing for that last lap all season, I don't run the 5,000 during the season, but I always run it in the championship meet. I've worked on that last lap and I think steeplechase has helped me get to that next gear and hang with people to the end," Strickland said.
Zwama was second with a 15:01.35 time, followed by McKenna in third at 15:09.38. McKenna earned a pair of first-team all-WAC honors after winning the 10,000m run on Friday. Freshman Daniel Howell was fourth at 15:23.81, while sophomore Steve Atkinson was sixth (15:31.74) and sophomore Nick Bolinder finished seventh (15:35.90).
Strickland was happy that the pack of Aggies in the 5,000m could help USU win the conference title after two second-place finishes last year at the outdoor meet and this year's indoor championships, placing second behind Boise State both times.
"It's a relief to finally win the conference title after finishing four points shy last year in outdoor and then four and half points at the indoor this year. We needed to win this so we collectively decided to go out and take it to them," Strickland said.
Other highlights from Saturday included senior Krista Larson's school-record performance in the hammer throw, with a new mark of 196-08 (59.95m).
"It's great to set a new school record. We've been working on very specific things all year, so it was really good for it all to come together today and I was able to come out with a PR and throw well enough to break the school record," an enthusiastic Larson said.
Saturday's action opened with the women's hammer throw and Larson notched her second-place throw of 196-08 (59.95m), good for first-team all-WAC honors. That mark topped her previous career-high of 193-01.00 (58.86m), set earlier this season at the Mark Faldmo Invitational, USU's home meet on April 18.
"It's very exciting being at home, it makes all the difference in the world for me because it just makes me more comfortable. Having the WAC meet here has just been amazing," Larson said.
Larson was second behind Fresno State's Sharon Ayala with a mark of 218-03 (66.52m), a new Ralph Maughan Stadium record, topping the previous record of 204-1 (62.22m), set in 2004 by Amy Palmer, who was unattached at the time.
The Aggie women were second in the 4x100m relay with a season-best 45.70 time, as well as the second-fastest time in school history. USU was behind the winning time of Louisiana Tech with 44.66, a new track record. The Utah State's men 4x100m relay team was disqualified for being out of the exchange zone.
Junior Elaine Connolly was also took third in the 800m finishing in 2:12.27.
In the 5,000m freshman Ruth Hilton lead the way finishing in fourth place at 18:08.82. Following Hilton for the Aggies was senior Vanessa Gledhil at 18:26.08 and close behind was sophomore Kim Quinn (18:38.82) in eighth while senior Ashley Johnson (18:42.38) took ninth.
The USU 4x400 relay team took fourth place cutting the tape at 3:44.13.
In the triple jump freshman Julia Stewart took eleventh with a distance of 36-07.75.
Junior Shannon Prince had a distance of 152-11(46.61m) in the discus. Larson tabbed fifth at 151-00 (1.63m)
Junior Heidi Hopkins finished second in the 400m hurdles with a new PR of 59.99. Hopkins time is seventh-fastest in Utah State school history. Senior Katie Thatcher finished close behind in third-place and also set a new PR in the event clocking in at 1:00.16.
In other men's action Junior Dusty Ott was sixth in the men's javelin with a mark of 202-05 (61.70m), an NCAA regional qualifying distance and earning Ott second-team all-WAC accolades.
The men's 1,500 saw sophomore Chio Lopez garner second with a career-best time of 3:52.19, while sophomore Hunter Nelson earned fifth-place with a 3:54.87 time. Both Lopez and Nelson ran regional qualifying times.
Sophomore James Allred took second-place in the 800m clocking in at 1:52.44.
Utah States men's relay team got third in the 4x400m relay for the second year in a row, clocking in at 3:15.30.
In men's field events freshman Bryce Hall set a new PR in the shot put with a distance of 57-06.50 (17.54m). Hall's mark is also tied for tenth longest in Utah State school history. Freshman Daniel Cruz had a distance of 51-03.50 (15.63m) landing him in sixth-place while senior Tyler Ellis tied for tenth at 47-04.50 (14.44m).
USU will await the selection to NCAA Regionals, which are May 28-30 in Eugene, Ore.