The SPU women’s track and field team has a long history of being on top or near the top of the GNAC. But after nine straight years of indoor GNAC championships, the Falcons have been topped in the last two by Alaska Anchorage. This year the women reclaimed the crown, shattering records along the way.
“Regaining this title is a huge deal for us,” junior Anna Patti said in a phone interview. “Only the seniors knew what it was like to win a GNAC championship, and it was rewarding to win as a whole team.”
SPU finished with a final score of 146 points, nudging Anchorage by only 12 at the GNAC Championships on Feb. 20 and 21 in Nampa, Idaho. This earned them recognition as GNAC Team of the Week across all sports, and they’re ranked number 1 in the West Region.
Freshman Becca Houk and junior Jahzelle Ambus broke three school records between the two of them, leading SPU to the victory.
“I thought Becca and Jahzelle both raced extremely well,” freshman Chris Moreton said. “Jahzelle is just an incredible runner, and Becca finished really strong [in the 200].”
Houk and Ambus finished in second and third place in the 200 meters, with Houk clocking in at 24.89 seconds and Ambus at 24.91. Both of them surpassed the 19-year-old school record time of 24.99 seconds by Shavonne Colebrook, earning them places on the NCAA provisional qualifying list.
Ambus also broke the year-old record in the 400 meters, clocking a time of 56.18 seconds. The previous record was 57.00, held by Kishia Mitchell. Ambus also qualified for the NCAA provisional list with her time.
Ambus and Houk contributed quite a bit toward the championship run, but senior Tasia Baldwin and sophomore Kyra Brannan also chipped in. They took 4th and 5th places in the 200 meters, respectively.
SPU was up by eight points heading into the 4×400 relay. The Falcons needed only to finish sixth or better to clinch the title. The team of Ambus, Baldwin, junior Jalin Tims, and senior Jasmine Johnson clocked an NCAA provisional time of 3:50.68, securing the championship.
The women also had a couple of individual champions after the first day of the meet. Junior Anna Patti won the 5,000 meter title with a time of 17:14.01.
“I had a lot of fun with my race,” Patti said. “I knew going in that I had a real shot [to win it], and things just fell into place during the race.”
Freshman Naphtali Ward won the high jump title with a jump of 5 feet, 6 and a half inches. Both the time from Patti and the jump from Ward were good enough for NCAA provisional qualifier marks.
“I was really impressed with Naphtali,” Patti said. “Winning any event in our conference as a freshman is huge, and I’m really proud of how she performed.”
The women aren’t the only ones with broken records. Freshman Mario Lopez has only run nine races at Seattle Pacific, but he’s already broken records in two of those races. Lopez first beat the record for the 400 meter dash back on Jan. 17 at the UW Indoor Preview with a 49.91. This shattered a 10-year-old, 49.99 second mark set by Chris Randolph.
He wasn’t close to being finished, either. Lopez came into Saturday’s final as the number seven seed after he clocked a 50.26 time in the Friday prelim. He shaved nearly a full second off of that during the final race, with a time of 49.27 seconds.
“Mario did a good job of staying ahead of the pack,” Moreton said. “He stayed strong in the second half of the race while guys were right on his heels.”
The only other SPU athlete to place and earn points for the men’s team was fellow freshman Clifford Paulk, who placed seventh in the triple jump at 42 feet and three-quarter inches. That was six inches further than the 41’6” he jumped at the UW Indoor Open on Feb. 15. SPU placed ninth at GNAC, with a total of 12 points.
Sports editor Chad Brown contributed to the reporting in this story.