LSU, FSU are top teams
By Jack Pfeifer
DES MOINES, Iowa – Shana Cox wrapped up a sterling four-year career at Penn State by winning the NCAA championship Saturday in the 400 meters, and bringing the Nittany Lions from behind on the anchor lap to victory in the 4x400 relay as well.
Cox, a senior from Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, had won numerous Big 10 championships, been 2nd in the NCAA 400 last year and 3rd in 2006 as a sophomore. This time, she won it all.
“When you get 2nd place, the goal is always to do better next time,” Cox said. “This was definitely a goal of mine!”
Cox built a 5-yard lead on the backstretch, then withstood a late run down the straightaway from Trish Bartholomew of Alabama, this year’s indoor champion. Cox won in 50.97 to 51.29 for Bartholomew and 51.39 for Carol Rodriguez of USC.
“It was a good race,” Cox said. “I ran it a little bit differently than I usually do. I altered my traditional race strategy a little bit.”
In the 4x4, Dominque Blake, a senior who went to Truman of the Bronx, led off for Penn State, followed by Aleesha Barber, Gayle Hunter and Cox. Cox passed Deonna Lawrence, the LSU anchor runner, on the backstretch and held on to win, 3:27.69-3:28.33.
LSU’s 2nd-place finish, worth 8 points, gave the Lady Tigers the team championship over Arizona State, the defending champions, 67-63. The teams had entered the final race tied, 59-59. ASU finished 5th in the 4x4, for 4 points.
It was the first national championship for Coach Dennis Shaver, who took over as LSU’s head coach four years ago.
Texas A&M was 3rd with 48 points, Penn State 4th with 39.
It was the 2nd championship of this meet for Truman graduates. On Friday, Rashaud Scott, another Truman alum, won the men’s discus for the University of Kentucky.
The men’s team championship was won by Coach Bob Braman’s Florida State Seminoles, for the 3rd year in a row. They scored 52 points. The other trophies went to LSU (44), Auburn (44) and Texas (35).
In addition to Scott and Cox, one other individual championship went to a New Yorker on Saturday, when Muhammad Halim won the triple jump, by 1 centimeter, for Cornell. Halim jumped 54-8 wind-aided in Round 4, then held on by half an inch when Andre Black of Louisville went 54-7 ½ on his final jump.
“On No. 4 I hit it,” said Halim, a senior who went to D’Amico High School in Albion. “After the prelims, I moved my step back about a foot and a half so I could get a longer stride.”
A year earlier, another Cornell athlete, Rayon Taylor, also won the triple jump, a rare feat for a school to have NCAA championships in the same event by two different competitors. This year, Taylor was back, this time competing for Florida State, as a graduate student.
“Last year, I pulled a hamstring and finished 8th,” Halim said. “My main focus was to be in good shape coming in here.”
Taylor, a graduate of Seton Hall Prep, finished 4th here, contributing 5 points to Florida State’s winning total.
“He won it last year,” Halim said of his former teammate, “so I really wanted to get it. We’ve been going at it for four years.”
In all, many of the winners here at Drake University have become familiar to Armory track fans in recent years, and that may have made them surprisingly familiar during Saturday’s two-hour live telecast on CBS.
Jacob Hernandez (800) and Leonel Manzano (1500), for example, won championships for Bubba Thornton’s Texas Longhorns, just as they did at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in February. Simone Facey and Porscha Lucas went 1-2 in the 200 for Coach Pat Henry’s Texas A&M, and Kelly-Ann Baptiste won the 100 and placed in the 200 for LSU. A&M and LSU were the team champions at this year’s NB meet.
And Shana Cox has been tearing up the Armory boards for years – for Penn State, and before that for Holy Trinity. Now, she’s national champion.
There was plenty of speculation about whether these championships will be returning here to Des Moines, where the famous Drake Relays are held every April. This was the first time the meet had been here in 38 years.
The schedule has already been set for next year at Arkansas, where a new facility has been built, and 2010 in Eugene, Ore., the site of this year’s Olympic Trials. This followed a 3-year run in Sacramento, Calif.
There is wide disagreement among the coaches on future sites. Some favor selecting a permanent home for the meet, a la the College World Series, which has been in Omaha, Neb., for many years. Others favor a rotation among perhaps three sites – such as the three just mentioned – and others want other, newer locations.
One thing was certain: Drake and the city of Des Moines want to have important track meets here in the future. They will host the 2010 USATF national championships, and they are interested in bidding for the Olympic Trials in 2016. (The 2012 meet has been awarded to Eugene.)
The meet drew an announced 41,187 people (ticket sales, not bodies in the stands) over the four days to the elegant Drake Stadium, and it was a much larger, more enthusiastic, more knowledgeable crowd than had been seen in recent years in Sacramento.
That pesky wind that kept it up for all four days was a problem, however. Meet officials insisted upon running every event directly into the wind, save for the decathlon hurdles. In some cases, that meant for an awkward situation when the wind would subside for one qualifying race and get strong for the next. Some coaches were angry that meet management refused to run those races on the backstretch, even though this had been part of the original bid proposal.
Meet management said it was a technical problem, but this reporter was told that in fact they were following instructions from television, which wanted all of the races to finish at the same place, regardless of any other consideration. The meet was televised nationally on Friday and Saturday, something the Track Coaches Association desperately wants.
Iowa’s disastrous flooding went on all around us, but the meet was able to continue in spite of the tragedy. Downtown Des Moines, just a mile from the stadium, was under water, and a number of teams, including Oregon, Texas and Stanford, were forced to evacuate their hotels there and find new quarters. Several teams had to move more than once.
On Friday and Saturday, once they had completed their own competition, a number of athletes joined the volunteer crews in town and helped with the sandbagging. This included athletes from the University of Washington and Florida State. When this selflessness was announced to the crowd on Saturday afternoon, it brought one of the biggest cheers of the meet.