By Jack Pfeifer
photos by Kim Spir
EUGENE, Ore. – Brigetta Barrett, a tall, poised, 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Arizona, may be America’s next great female high jumper. She’s won an NCAA indoor title and recently cleared 6 feet 4 inches. The journey to Tucson wasn’t easy.
When she was 16, finishing her sophomore year at Roy C. Ketcham High School, in Dutchess County, she was compelled by circumstance to leave New York (she was born in the Bronx). “I didn’t move with my family,” she said. “I moved by myself.”
She was already an established high jumper. As a sophomore, she won the New York state indoor title, at Cornell. But, “there were family issues. I knew I needed a change, so I called one of my cousins, and asked her if I could live with her. She said yes.” The cousin, older than Barrett with a teenage daughter of her own, lived in Dallas, Texas.
“I had never been to Dallas before, no,” Barrett said. “When I got there, it was immediately a great situation. “ She enrolled at Duncanville High School. “It was a great school, they have really good arts programs, and a very good basketball team. But in track, at first, I had to beg them just to bring the high jump pit out, and the track coach said, ‘The only reason I’m coaching you is because you’re polite.’”
Barrett has been a success ever since, though she is often the new kid in town. “I’m used to being the underdog, the unknown. When I got to Texas, Victoria Lucas was the favorite.” Lucas had cleared 6-1 at Midland H.S. a year earlier. “But then I upset her at the state meet.” Barrett cleared 6-0 at Duncanville her junior and senior years, then got a scholarship to the University of Arizona, a school with an excellent tradition in the HJ. “When I arrived at Arizona, Liz (Patterson) was already there.”
In 2010, her freshman season, it didn’t take Barrett long to make an impression. By February she had cleared 6-2 ¼. In March, Patterson won the NCAA indoor, and her younger teammate tied for 3rd. By spring, Barrett improved to 6-3 ¼ and placed 3rd at the Senior Nationals. This year, with Patterson graduated, Barrett has taken over – NCAA indoor champion, Pac-10 champion, PR up to 6-4. “6-5 is next,” she said. “I am determined to make it.
“I still train with Liz. She wants to be great; I want to be great. We practice together.”
Next up for Barrett is the NCAA outdoor championships, next week at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she is the decided favorite. She advanced by qualifying at the West Regional meet over the weekend here at the University of Oregon. In qualifying, she cleared 5-7 and 5-8 ¾ on her first attempts, and that was all that was needed to trim the field to the required 12 jumpers. At Drake, they will be joined by the 12 qualifiers from the East Regional, which was held at the same time in Bloomington, Ind.
NCAA finals were also held over the weekend for Divisions II and III.
Div. I West Region
One of the other 11 highjumpers to qualify was Nia Ali, the USC senior from Philadelphia who also ran the 100 hurdles. “The hurdles went well,” she said. Ali won her heat in the fastest time of the day, 12.92, well ahead of second-place Gabby Mayo, of Texas A&M. “I had just come from high jump,” Ali said. “My legs were pretty heavy.”
The schedule for the double feels more manageable when the finals arrive next week. “The high jump final is the same day as the hurdle trials,” Ali said. “Then, I can just focus on the hurdles on Saturday.”
For Mayo, a senior, she’s still adjusting. “I’m just now catching up with everybody,” she said. “I’m a sprinter first, a hurdler second.” For the NCAA meet, she has not qualified in an open sprint race. She leads off the Aggies’ national-leading 4x100 squad, and is running the hurdles.
Mid-season, she was injured. “Penn Relays was my first meet back,” Mayo said. “This was my sixth hurdle race outdoors. The first half of my race is fine, but the second half sometimes I lose control. I’m working on getting my feet down, and on staying quick.”
Meantime, Mayo’s fellow hurdle star at A&M, Natasha Ruddock – a graduate of Essex County College in Newark -- won her heat, in 13.04. A year ago, A&M won the NCAA team title despite losing both hurdlers to injuries. This year, both have advanced to the final week. Unlike Mayo, Ruddock usually stays steady throughout the race. “She’s opposite,” Mayo said of Ruddock. “I get out. She finishes.”
To repeat as women’s national champions, A&M is expected to battle with LSU, from the East Region, and the Oregon Ducks, the home team here. Oregon ran into trouble on Day 2 when one of its star sprinters, Amber Purvis, limped home in the 200, with the relay prelims still to be run a day later. Purvis is a key member of both of Oregon’s highly ranked relay teams.
Because the Regional relay races were not run until the final day, Saturday, a lot was at stake, and Oregon was forced to make last-minute adjustments. Women’s Coach Robert Johnson didn’t tell the team members the revised lineup in the 4x100 “until right before the race,” said the New Jersey freshman English Gardner. Gardner, upset winner of the Pac-10 100 two weeks earlier, was switched from anchor position to Purvis’s spot, the 2nd leg. “He didn’t want us to freak out,” Gardner said of Johnson. Did it work?
“We never practiced that combination, ever,” Gardner said of the new order – Mandy White, Gardner, Lauryn Newson, Jamesha Youngblood. “It was very nerve-racking.
“But we just followed the motto, ‘Better to leave late than early.’” The Ducks finished 2nd in their heat, running 44.68, a full second slower than their season’s best and the 8th-fastest on the day. “Our goal was just to qualify, get to nationals, and we’ll fix everything once we get there,” Gardner said.
In the 4x4, Michelle Williams filled in for Purvis, followed by three freshmen – Chizoba Okodogbe, New Yorker Phyllis Francis and Laura Roesler – and they ran a splendid 3:33.63, 2nd-fastest of the day.
Even if Purvis is healthy next week, it is unclear if she will be eligible to compete under the NCAA honest-effort rule.
In the men’s competition, Oregon’s Matthew Centrowitz and A.J. Acosta finished 1-2 in Heat I of the men’s 1,500. Centrowitz, a junior whose father, Matt, also ran for Oregon, has never won an NCAA individual championship.
Div. I East Region
Villanova’s Sheila Reid qualified in two events, the 1,500 and 5,000, setting up another rematch with Jordan Hasay of Oregon, who also qualified in both. At the NCAA indoor championships in March, Reid beat Hasay on the anchor leg of the DMR, but Hasay returned the next day to win the mile and then outkick Reid in the 3,000 as well, leading the Ducks to the team title.
Last November, Reid handled Hasay over the final half-mile of the NCAA cross country championships, winning the individual title and leading Villanova to the team title.
Iona’s Leonard Korir, surprise NCAA indoor champion in the 5,000 meters, qualified in both the 5,000 and 10,000 here. The fastest 10k time was turned in by Samuel Chelanga of Liberty, the collegiate recordholder. A month ago, Korir ran one of the fastest college 10k’s ever, 27:29.40.
In the 10, a second Gael, Alexander Soderberg, also qualified.
Princeton had a number of qualifiers in both the men’s and women’s division, highlighted by the men’s 4x4 team, which ran 3:05.86, breaking its own Ivy League all-time record set earlier this spring. The team was Tom Hopkins, Russell Dinkins, Mike Eddy and Austin Hollimon.
One of the Tigers’ women qualifiers was Ashley Higginson, the senior from Colts Neck, N.J., who will be joined in the steeplechase by another Colts Neck graduate, Craig Forys of Michigan. Forys ran a lifetime-best 8:44.92, Higginson a seasonal-best 10:00.78.
Also advancing in the men’s steeplechase were Donn Cabral (8:43) of Princeton, the NCAA runnerup a year ago; New Jersey native Travis Mahoney (8:36) of Temple, and New Yorker Ryan McDermott (8:51) of Duke.
The 800s were full of local qualifiers. In the women’s, the fastest time of the day was turned in by Yale’s Kate Grace (2:03.41), followed closely by Caroline King (2:04.79), from BC and Scotia-Glenville, N.Y.; Charlene Lipsey (2:05.63), of LSU and Long Island, and Chelsea Cox (2:05.72), Georgetown and Southern Regional, N.J. Ironically, Cox’s older and more well-known teammate at Southern Regional, Jillian Smith, failed to advance for Michigan.
In the men’s, Virginia’s Robby Andrews and Penn State’s Cas Loxsom, fellow sophomores, had the No. 1 and 2 times in the 8. Andrews, NCAA indoor champion and outdoor runnerup in 2010, redshirted this indoor season because of injury. At last month’s Penn Relays, Andrews overtook Loxsom to give Virginia its second win in a row in the Championship 4x800.
A number of New York and New Jersey schools qualified athletes to the NCAA finals, including Monmouth (Vincent DuVernois, javelin), Buffalo (Robert Golabek, shot put), Rutgers (Aaron Younger, IH, and Adam Bergo, HJ), Cornell (Gary Jones, TJ), Albany (Luke Schoen, PV, and Alie Beauvais, IH), Manhattan (Colin Quirke, DT), Binghamton (Erik van Ingen, 1500), West Point (Domonick Sylve, HH) and Stony Brook (Lucy Van Dalen, 1500).
Other Qualifiers (Q) and Non-qualifiers (NQ) included:
10k NQ Martinez (Bing), Martin (Col), Griffin (Marist); Ham Q Henning (LSU) NQ de Jesus Elias (Alb); PV NQ Quiller (Bing); 400 Q Parros (UNC), Hylton (LSU) NQ Cox (UNC); 800 Q Dinkins (Prince), Webb (Ky) NQ Santos (Alb), Roller and Kostelac (Va); IH Q Murray (Del St); DT NQ Plummer (Rut); HH Q Hill (Miami), Clarke (B-Cookman) NQ Bradshaw (Ky); 1500 NQ Feigen (Col), Gonzalez (Rider), Behnke (Col); 5K NQ Forys, Beamish and Mildenhall (Nova), Snyder (Col), Bayley and Murphy (Iona) 4x4 Q Del State, G Mason NQ Binghamton, Rutgers, Morgan State
10k NQ Marino (Nova) 1500 NQ Gallagher (Ford), Burne (SB), Drouin (Col); LJ Q Mayers (Del St) NQ Vegvari (Col), Clayton (LSU), Olsson (Man), Ofoche (Col); TJ NQ Baiter (Brown), Okeke (Col); SP Q Riddick (Ind); HJ NQ Roberts (Col); 400 Q Mott and Russell (UNC) NQ Hale (Col); 100 Q Booker (C Fla) NQ Hawthorne (UConn); 800 Q Ross (Duke) NQ Tate (Hamp), Moore (Duke) IH Q Njoku (Ga Tech) NQ Allen (Scar), Caldwell (Col) Steeple NQ Davidson (Prov), McKenna (NC St); 4x1 Q Pitt; 1500 Q Sheffey (Tenn), Tomlin (Gtwn) NQ Lipari (Nova), Gregson (Iona); 100H NQ Gaines (LIU); 200 NQ Hawthorne; 5000 Q Mimic (Nova), Banfich (Prince); NQ Costello (Tenn), Smith (Nova), Green (SB), Lane (PS), Drouin and Lanois (Col); 4x4 NQ Columbia
In the championships at Cal State/Stanislaus, Abilene Christian won the men’s team title, Grand Valley State the women’s. Neely Spence of Shippensburg defended her national championship in the 5,000 meters, in 16:17.30, defeating Sarah Porter of Western Washington by 6 seconds.
Other Eastern highlights included Rosie Mascoli of East Stroudsburg, 3rd in the 10,000 (33:54); Nafee Harris, IUP, 2nd in the LJ (25-10w); Wesley Lavong, Adams State, 6th in the SP (58-11 ¼); Nick Hilton, Lock Haven, 4th in the steeple (8:55.48); Josh Hontz, East Stroudsburg, Jav runnerup (225-4), and Alexandra Arnold, Slippery Rock, 5th in the javelin (143-6). Wesley Lavong’s younger brother, Carlton, is also enrolled at Adams State in Colorado after a distinguished prep career in Philadelphia, but is not yet eligible.
The team titles went to the Wisconsin-Oshkosh men and the North Central (Ill.) women.
National champions from Eastern colleges included Jennifer Gossels of Williams College in the 5k and 10k, defeating Wendy Pavlus of St. Lawrence in the latter; Abigail Schaffer of Moravian in the vault (13-7); Eric Woodruff of Moravian in the 100 and 200; Nick Guarino of Fredonia in the 8 and 15; Kurt Pecora of Dickinson in the steeple (8:51.85); Rowan in the men’s 4x4, anchored by the IH runnerup, Demetrius Rooks, and Gary Zack of Moravian in the javelin.
Matt Turlip finished 6th for NYU in the 1,500, 2 seconds behind Guarino. His teammate Sebastian Schwelm was 18th in the 10k, and Dan McKinney failed to make the final in the 400. Paul Dedewo of CCNY finished 8th in the 400, in 48.44.