At the end of Day 1 of the NCAA Championships, HepsNation got one more top-8 finish to add to the record books (making it now 239 Ivy Leaguers who have finished in the top-8 at a NCAA Outdoor Championships), had a near miss of making it 240 in another event, and a third athlete in contention of finishing in the top 8. Meanwhile, two alumni advanced to their respective finals and a former Ivy won his first NCAA title while making the all-time collegiate top 10 listing.
Cornell’s Rudy Winkler made quite a splash in his first collegiate national championship. The 2013 Track & Field News High School Athlete of the Year has become the first Heps hammer thrower to take a top-eight finish at the NCAA Championships since 1980. Prior to yesterday, only three Heps’ athletes had ever flung the hammer 220 feet. Winkler did that FIVE times yesterday, highlighted by a career-best 68.10 meters (223-5). He finished 8th overall in the competition, as the national title also went to a “first-timer” at the NCAA Championships – Conor McCullough, former Princeton Tiger now representing USC. McCullough dominated the event, winning by over 17-feet with a best toss of 76.91m (252-4). The mark is the 7th best in all-time collegiate history.
Yesterday marked the first and last appearance of Princeton’s Sam Pons at a NCAA Outdoor Championship. The senior had a goal of making a top-8 finish to claim First-Team All-America accolades, which he knew he needed to race fast and smart. The race fell into his favor during the early laps – at the 5km point in 14:49, the field was still a tight pack and Pons lingered in the middle along the rail. The field started to split up around 6,400m, and for the remaining laps, Pons was grouped in the other athletes that were contending for a 6th through 10th place finish. It was still tight at the bell, and even with a mighty final lap of 60 seconds, Pons came up 0.5 seconds short of the top-8 he desired as he finished 9th overall in a new personal best of 29:17.54. “I wanted to make first-team All-America and run as fast as I could,” Pons shared with Princeton Athletic Communications after his race. “It’s nationals and I made it this far so I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just wanted to have the best race I could put out there. I’m happy with the season. If you told me five months ago that I’d be vying for the NCAAs I wouldn’t have believed it, so I’m very excited, very happy.”
Meanwhile, his teammate Stephen Soerens had a phenomenal Day 1 in the decathlon as he set two new all-time bests, an outdoor best, and scored over 800 points in three of the events to finish the day in 4th place with 4,901 points. Not bad for coming in as the #24 seed. He set new all-time bests in the 100m (11.11, wind-aided) and long jump (7.36m – 24-1.75, wind-aided), both of which gave him 836 and 900 points, respectively. He had the second best shot put throw in the NCAA competition, an outdoor best toss of 14.86m (48-09) for 786 points. He also had strong showings in both the high jump (1.96m – 6-05) and 400m (50.16) where he earned 767 and 807 points, respectively. For comparison sake – at this past Outdoor Heps, Soerens finished Day 1 with 3,975 points, which ultimately led to him winning the conference title in a new personal best of 7,319 points. If he ran the same marks from Heps Day 2 for NCAA Day 2, he would finish with 7,435 points. But we think he is capable of a higher score based off of his comments to Princeton Athletic Communications last night: “[NCAA’s] a big stage, but I felt more pressure at the Heps meets. This is a meet where I can really just go for big marks and have a lot of fun. Being the last seed, it limits expectations from the rest of the field and a lot of the spectators, so I know I’m good to just go out and put a great score up. I’m a strong Day 1 athlete, and I’ll be playing a little bit of catch up in throws after the hurdles and vault, but it puts me in a really great position to just go for a really big score and try to get some more PRs, so I’m happy about my position.”
Two Ivy alumni qualified for the 1,500m finals that will be held on Friday evening. There were two semifinals and the top 5 from each heat followed by the next two fastest times qualified for the finals. Princeton alum Peter Callahan (representing New Mexico) cruised to a 4th place finish in his semifinal heat with a time of 3:46.19. Columbia alum Johnny Gregorek (representing Oregon) ended up being in the fast heat, and he finished with the 3rd fastest time of the day of 3:40.89 that guaranteed his spot in the finals. Callahan made the final last year where he finished 4th in the finals with a speedy 3:39.90. This will be Gregorek’s first NCAA 1,500m final.
Cornell’s Stephen Mozia finished his collegiate career in the only other final contended today by a Heps athlete. The Heps’ throwing king threw 18.77m (61-07) on his first throw of the competition and this ended up being his best mark. Unfortunately, it did not make the cut for the finals and he ended up finishing 18th overall in the competition. The event was won by Buffalo’s Jonathon Jones with a toss of 20.78m (68-02.25).
Day 2 will feature the conclusion of the multi-events and the beginning of the women’s competition. Like the men, the only finals of the day will include the hammer throw, pole vault, long jump, shot put, and 10km events.
Winkler photo from Cornell Athletes; Pons’ photo from Princeton Athletic Communications