There were several members of the Heps Nation beginning their quest to advance to the IAAF World Championships in Des Moines on Thursday, but it was a junior athlete — Penn freshman Thomas Awad — who stole their thunder.
Running in the Midwest heat and wind, which can feel like a big hair dryer, Awad held off a strong charge from Northeastern’s Wesley Gallagher down the stretch of the 5,000-meter run to win in 15:00.67.
“I was pretty confident today,” Awad said. “I had the fastest qualifying time. If it was a fast race, I knew that I would be in it. I have been in a lot of tactical races this year. I knew I would be able to sprint the last couple laps if I had to. I am happy that I could finish it off and compete to the best of my ability. Now I get to compete in Colombia (at the Pan Ams).”
Awad’s teammate, Brendan Smith, nearly made it two Red & Blue victories. In the junior steeplechase, Smith was second in 9:20.10, less than three seconds behind Purdue’s Tate Schienbein. The rest of the field was nearly 10 seconds in back of Smith.
The senior events provided five advancers from the League with all eyes on the return of Olympian Morgan Uceny, who advanced to the 1,500m final on Saturday. After falling and injuring her back in the Olympic final last summer, it has been a long road back for Uceny, who now trains in England. In some ways, she feels like an underdog again and told Flotrack that she is working to “get my s**t together.” She will face Shannon Rowbury, Treniere Moser and high school phenom Mary Cain in the final.
Yale’s Kate Grace decided to return to her college roots at Nationals, the 800-meter run. And it played out well as she ran 2:02.14 for an automatic qualifier to the semifinals. This event is stacked with the likes of Alysia Montano, Brenda Martinez, Chanelle Price, Ajee Wilson and others. Booking a ticket to Moscow will be a tall order. Neither Greta Feldman (Princeton) nor Jesse Carlin (Penn) advanced.
The biggest bounty for the Ivy runners came in the women’s steeplechase as three members of the Heps Nation — Ashley Higginson (Princeton), Alexi Pappas (Dartmouth) and Carrie Strickland Dimoff (Princeton) — advanced to the final. Pappas donned an Oregon jersey for her Flotrack interview afterward and we hope that someone sits her down for an intervention. Rachel Sorna, the Heps’ record holder in the event, did not advance, but had an amazing junior season for the Big Red.
Dartmouth grad Ben True gave a spirited run at a top-three finish in the men’s 10k final late into the night, but Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenhein and Chris Derrick proved too much as True finished fourth in the heat. “Three laps to go, I was cooked,” he said. “With about a k(ilometer) to go, [having a second chance in the 5k] crossed my mind.”
Recent Cornell graduate Katie Kellner was 16th in the women’s 10k in 34:42.46 while neither Princeton’s Joe Stilin nor Columbia’s Liam Boylan-Pett advanced in the 1,500m.
Back to the Juniors, Harvard rookie Autumne Franklin took third in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing in 14.07 into a strong Iowa wind. USA Track & Field will flip the finish line on Friday and, if the winds remain, virtually no times will be wind legal. Franklin will be back at it on Friday in the 400-meter hurdles.
Penn’s Gabby Cuccia qualified for the eight-person final in the 800-meter run, where she will face favorite Olicia Williams of Baylor. Cuccia’s teammate Elyssa Gensib was seventh in the 3,000-meter run early in the day.
Max Hairston (Cornell) and Gregory Caldwell (Princeton) each ran the 110-meter hurdles, the first event of Thursday, but failed to advance.