June 9, 2005
An uncharacteristic rainy June day welcomed the nation's best for day one of the NCAA Division I National Track & Field Championships. For the Gauchos however, one would think it was as clear as a Santa Barbara afternoon in mid summer. Ben Armel (Sr.) and Tetlo Emmen (Jr.) qualified for the semi finals in the Men's 800m while Lauren Christman (Jr.) and Cosette Smith (Sr.) qualified for finals in the Women's 50000m with a new school record.
Christman and Smith on Tuesday afternoon found out that they had drawn the same heat along with eleven other women to see who would move onto finals. Broken up into two heats of thirteen and fourteen women, it would take either finishing in the top six of each heat garnering an automatic berth into Saturday night's finals or being one of the next four women out of both heats to go on time.
Christman and Smith entered the Championships ranked 17th and 20th overall. Christman in 2005 had previously run 16:26.37 and Smith 16:30.68. In heat one they were ranked 8th and 10th respectively. The race went out at a relative slow pace of 81 seconds. It then picked up to 78 seconds where the ladies would settle in through the mile coming by in approximately 5:15. The pack including the Gauchos was still tightly bunched.
With one woman falling off, a group of twelve continued to click off 77's and 78's through eight of twelve and a half laps. Christman was nicely sandwiched between 5th and 7th place while Smith had settled a little farther back. With a thousand meters remaining, a pack of three women had built a 10-meter lead. Christman remained in fifth place looking strong. Smith on the other hand was back in ninth approximately 10 meters off of her teammate. Looking as if it may be lost for Smith, she got around two women off the back turn and got right back up to where Christman, Blankenship of Samford and Walter of Michigan were battling it out for the final three automatic spots.
With two laps remaining the group of four dropped a 76 second lap. It was now apparent that not only may the Gauchos grab two auto spots into finals but they were also on pace to break Katie Appenrodt's 5K school record of 16:22.17 achieved at the 2003 NCAA Championships. Appenrodt's mark was also ran in Sacramento en route to an NCAA All-American finish.
Christman, Blankenship and Smith had now dropped Walter as they charged down the backstretch. The pack of three up front maintained their 10-meter lead. Bei of Stanford would cross the line first in 16:12.57. Christman, who ran the 5000m for the first time this year, would finish in 4th in a new School Record of 16:16.35. Smith, also going under the old school record would finish 6th in 16:18.75.
Both advance automatically to Saturday's final. Looking ahead, Christman and Smith will enter the finals with the 8th and 10th fastest 2005 times out of those sixteen who qualified. Four of them are more than twenty seconds ahead but then the fifth fastest mark stands only four seconds ahead of Christman at 16:12.83, which should make for a great race. The top eight Americans will earn NCAA All-American status.
In the 800m quarterfinals, Armel and Emmen came in ranked 18th (1:48.50) and 20th (1:48.72) respectively. Armel qualified for nationals via an at-large birth after a disappointing West Regional finish in which he did not qualify for finals. Emmen finished 6th at Regionals to get a Nationals berth but also left Eugene with a bitter taste in his mouth, unable to defend his West Regional title he obtained in 2004. In `04 both Gauchos failed to qualify for semifinals at NCAA's and Armel was also the first to not qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento.
With sixteen advancing, three automatically per heat and then the next four fastest times, Armel and Emmen would have to run close to their seasonal bests in the first of three rounds in order to redeem themselves and qualify for the "sweet 16". Drawing the first heat, Emmen would start the meet off for the Gauchos in the mid-afternoon drizzle. An underdog yet again, he came in ranked 5th of six in heat one. They pack would come through in approximately 54.8 through 400m with Emmen in the back. At 200m, he began to make his move as they came through the mark in 1:22.
One athlete had fallen off and five remained in tact coming down to the last 100m. The other four in the pack all had broken 1:48 in 2005, but in a championship race with 100m left it is anybody's race. Emmen got on his toes and unlike the Regional meet in Eugene where he tightened up, he kept his form smooth crossing the line in 3rd, the last auto spot of the heat with a time of 1:48.95.
Armel drew the third heat in which he was also ranked 5th of seven. Off to a brisk pace, Mumba of Oral Roberts took the field through 200m in 25 seconds and 400m in 52.6. Armel had also jumped to the front in the first lap just a few steps off Mumba. Coming into turn three Armel had faded in 3rd. By the beginning of turn four he was in 5th on the inside of six others. They would come through in 1:20 through 600m. With his patented head weaving down the homestretch, Armel dug deep to finish in 4th and get a spot into the semi's off of time with a 1:48.51, just one one-hundredth off his seasonal best.
Getting the redemption they both need, both will now run in the semifinals today, June 9th at 6:30. Sixteen athletes will compete in two heats attempting to qualify for finals on Saturday. They will take eight to finals.
And so, day one of the NCAA Track & Field Championship ended as one of the best National Championship days in recent Gaucho history. Amy Haapanen (Jr.) will start things off for UCSB at 1pm today in the Women's Hammer Throw. She enters the meet ranked 21st out of twenty-seven women scheduled to compete.