Falcons soar at nationals

Texas might be called the Lone Star state, but SPU produced six stars over the weekend at the 2005 NCAA division II Track and Field National Championships in Abilene, Texas.

Junior decathlete Chris Randolph claimed the Falcon’s only victory with an improbable comeback in the decathlon and he led a core of six Falcons to All-American honors. Danielle Ayers-Stamper, who competed in four events, garnered All-American honors in two of them.

The meet, which was held at Abilene Christian University, spanned the better part of three days and saw several different weather patterns pass through the vast Texas skies.

When the athletes arrived in Abilene they were greeted with temperatures approaching 100 degrees. By the time that they left, they had experienced several electrical storms and torrential downpours which forced them to be evacuated from the field.

Randolph was ranked number one coming into the meet but, after nine of the 10 events, he found himself down by more than 300 points.

"I remember thinking so many times that it was over," Randolph commented about his chances of winning.

The last event in the decathlon is the 1,500-meter run which is the track and field equivalent to the American mile. Randolph knew he had a better personal record (PR) than his opponent in the 1,500m but he had to beat him by 52 seconds in order to erase the deficit and claim the title.

"I’ve never seen anyone make up 300 points on the last event, but it was our only shot and it worked to perfection," Coach Jack Hoyt said.

Randolph ran a PR time of 4:29.88 and beat his opponent over a minute to give SPU its first title in the decathlon in 35 years. For a school that has been rich in producing great decathletes and heptathletes, Randolph was humbled by his accomplishment.

"It’s an honor to have that kind of an accomplishment," he said.

Randolph’s final score was 7,309, which places him second all time in the SPU record books. Steve Gough, who was the last Falcon to win the decathlon back in 1970, holds the school record, which is just over 7,500 points.

Ayers-Stamper put forth a valiant effort in the heptathlon but was resided to a second place finish due to a remarkable performance by Anastassia Kyvelidou of Nebraska Omaha. Kyvelidou amassed 5,780 points, shattering the previous meet record. Ayers-Stamper also broke the previous meet record with a score of 5,606 and earned an automatic qualifying bid to next month’s U.S. Championships.

Going into the final event (800 meters), Ayers-Stamper needed to beet her opponent by 10 seconds to win the competition.

"Danielle also was running to qualify for the USA Track Meet (5,500)," Hoyt noted. "It was amazing to watch Danielle break 5,600 points. That score would have won 17 of the past 18 NCAA II heptathlons."

After her impressive performance in the heptathlon, Ayers-Stamper came back on Saturday to take seventh in the 100-meter hurdles.

Joining Ayers-Stamper in the heptathlon was Kelsey Cooley. Going into the competition, Cooley ranked outside of the top eight, but thanks to four PRs and an overall improvement on her total score by 84 points (4,926), she was able to claim eighth place and grab All-American honors.

Senior Paul Mach competed in a very competitive 800 meter race and he was able to come away with a fourth place finish. Mach had to run the majority of the race from the outside but still ran a solid time of 1:51.70.

"The 800 is a race that is very difficult to win because it is run at such a fast speed without lanes," Hoyt commented. "There is definitely some luck that takes place in getting in the right position to win."

In the women’s javelin throw, both freshman Lauren VerMulm and sophomore Molly Hornbuckle qualified for finals. VerMulm wound up placing fourth with a toss of 144 feet, 10 inches. Hornbuckle finished in 10th place, two spots away from All-American honors, and Ayers-Stamper finished in 14th.

In the women’s pole vault, a severe rain storm forced the athletes to be evacuated from the field half way through the competition, but junior Amy Harris would not let the weather stop her from achieving a fifth place finish and becoming an All-American.

After successfully clearing her first two heights, Harris and the other competitors were forced to wait over an hour while the rain a wind had it s way with Elmer Gray Stadium. When the competition did resume, Harris was not able to regain her earlier momentum but neither was the rest of the field. She finished with a clearance of 12-2.

Freshman Bridgette Sexton ran a solid race in the 800 meter, but she came up just short of qualifying for finals. The top nine qualifiers advanced to the finals and Sexton finished in tenth place.

As for the team rankings, the women finished in 13th position and the men finished in 15th. For the men, it is their best finish since 1973.

Hoyt is proud of his team’s efforts and optimistic about the future. Mach is the only one of the eight athletes who competed that will not be returning next year.

"I’m really confident that our women’s team will break into the top five next year at nationals," Hoyt said. "The men will be ready to get a few more qualifiers as well."

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Title: Falcons soar at nationals | Author: Grant Ludwick | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2005-06-01 | Internal ID: 4585