By Jack Pfeifer
EUGENE, Ore. – Walter Henning, the Long Island kid who cut his teeth in the Armory cage as a student at St. Anthony’s, won the NCAA hammer championship Friday afternoon here at the University of Oregon, coming from behind on his final throw.
Entering Round 6, Henning, a junior at LSU, stood in 2nd place, trailing Alexander Ziegler of Virginia Tech by one foot, 10 inches. Ziegler had been leading the competition throughout and was in 1st place, with a throw of 237-5. Henning had had four consecutive throws past the 230-foot line, but stood 2nd, at 235-7.
“Winning the NCAA was definitely a goal for this season,” Henning said. “I said, ‘Do I really want to get 2nd again?’” Henning was runnerup a year ago.
On his final throw, he threw 238-9 to take the lead, but Ziegler was last in the order and had one throw remaining. “I watched it out of the corner of my eye,” Henning said. “I was pacing. OK,” he said, “I did watch his throw. He’s an awesome competitor.”
It was a long throw, “but at those distances, it’s hard to tell where it lands,” Henning said. It was Ziegler’s best throw of the day, 237-7, 14 inches short.
Henning, ever the analyst, said calmly, “I’m trying to be consistent at 72 meters (236 feet). But I’m very happy with being national champion. It was my second-best throw ever, so I can’t complain.”
Henning’s complete series of six legal throws was 218-5, 230-4, 235-7, 231-6, 231-2, 238-9.
The big race of Day Three of these championships – they conclude Saturday morning and will be televised live on Saturday afternoon Eastern time on CBS – was the men’s 800, a rematch of the defending champion, hometown favorite Andrew Wheating of Oregon, and Robby Andrews, the freshman teenager from the University of Virginia, and Manalapan, N.J. It was just a year ago that Andrews had set two national high school indoor records on the Armory track. Now, he was facing Wheating, the long-striding, 6-foot-5 Olympian, before nearly 12,000 fans at Hayward Field. At least 11,700 of them were rooting for Wheating, but ever watchful of Andrews, who had beaten their guy twice already this year.
This time, it was all Wheating. He and Andrews came through the 400 at the back of the field, but when Wheating began a long move on the outside to the front, Andrews was not able to go with him. By the time Andrews began his patented kick down the homestretch, Wheating was gone, the home crowd roaring in approval. Wheating won in 1:45.69. Andrews came on for 2nd, more than a second back. The two embraced in a sportsmanlike gesture afterward.
Wheating’s Oregon team, which had hoped to challenge for both the men’s and women’s team championships, was foundering. The men had failed to score in the javelin on Thursday, and even with victories by Wheating and by Ashton Eaton in the decathlon, they had little left for the final day. The men’s team chase is expected to come down to a two-team battle between Florida, this year’s indoor champion, and Texas A&M, the defending champion.
In the women’s competition, Oregon senior Nicole Blood appeared exhausted from her 3rd-place effort in the 10,000 two nights earlier and finished well back in the 5,0
00, although her teammate, Alex Kosinski, came on for 3rd. Blood did not speak to the press afterward.
Going into Saturday, the Oregon men did still have three contenders in the 1,500 – Matthew Centrowitz, A.J. Acosta and Wheating – along with Eaton in the long jump. The Texas A&M and Oregon women would be meeting head-to-head in both relays, but the Ducks need big points in the 1,500 from Kosinski, doubling back from the 5, and from freshman Jordan Hasay, to have a chance.
Oregon was hurt a little in the women’s 400 when Keshia Baker, one of the favorites, could manage just 4th place. The race was won going away by Hampton’s Francena McCorory, in 50.69. “I was mad I didn’t run faster,” said McCorory, who broke the American indoor record at this year’s NCAA meet. “I wanted to finish my senior year with a championship,” she said. “I’m excited.”
Although she has a year of college eligibility remaining, McCorory, who is graduating this spring, said she is looking forward to running professionally. “I might dabble with the sprints a little bit, too,” she said.
In the women’s 400 hurdles, Queen Harrison of Virginia Tech drove past Ti’erra Brown of Miami down the final straightaway to win in 54.55, while Fawn Dorr of Penn State and Akron, N.Y., recovered from a difficult first few hurdles to get 4th in 56.75.
In the women’s 800, Phoebe Wright of Tennessee repeated as champion, running 2:01.40. LaTavia Thomas, the LSU senior from West Catholic of Philadelphia, got 3rd in 2:03.64, Kate Grace of Yale 7th in 2:05.92.
UConn’s Trisha-ann Hawthorne, from Westchester County, finished 7th in the 100, running 11.39w. Blessing Okagbare of UTEP won it in 10.98s, while A&M went 2-3 for 14 big team points. Despite the absence of sprinter/hurdler Gabby Mayo to injury, the Aggies appeared poised to repeat as women’s team champions.
The men’s 100 was won by Florida’s Jeff Demps in 9.96w. The Gators will meet A&M head-to-head in both relay finals on Saturday, and those races may decide that team outcome.
In Saturday’s women’s steeplechase final, one of the competitors will be the Providence freshman Shelby Greany, from Suffern. In Thursday’s qualifying, Greany broke the American Junior (under 20) record, running 10:04.88.
In the men’s steeple on Friday, Princeton sophomore Donn Cabral came on for 2nd place, running 8:38.90.
West Point’s Domonick Sylve was eliminated in Thursday’s high hurdle semis, running 14.11 for 8th place in Heat III. Sylve had been among the leaders until clipping the next-to-last hurdle. Kyle Grady of Rutgers was 5th in that race in 13.82, Chris Kinney of Georgetown 4th in 13.77, as both were also eliminated.
In the women’s 1,500 prelims that evening, Brittany Sheffey of Tennessee and Bellport, L.I., fell with two laps to go. “I’m not sure what happened,” she said. “There was jostling and everything.
“At first, when I went down, it was just adrenalin pumping, and I said to myself, ‘Get up!’” But by then, the pack had put 30 yards on her. She finished, but in last place. “I have quite a few nicks,” she said, “but I’m OK.” Lucy Van Dalen of Stony Brook and Sheila Reid of Villanova made the final; Heidi Gregson of Iona and Ellen Dougherty of Villanova were eliminated. Van Dalen ran a lifetime best of 4:13.19, and her sister Holly placed in Friday’s 5,000 as well.