Two Bears Take Titles at Outdoor FinalsBy Jeff Goodman Daily Californian
June 14, 2007
Berkeley, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- For the entire track and field season, there have been two very steady trends for Alysia Johnson: She has consistently placed first in the women's 800-meter race, and she has hovered at a time of just over two minutes in each of those races. Only one of those trends continued Saturday morning at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex in Sacramento.
After running the preliminary and semifinal rounds in over two minutes each, the junior clocked a lifetime-best time of 1:59.29 in the final, winning the NCAA outdoor championship and breaking her own school record.
Johnson said the title crowns her growing list of accomplishments, which includes the 2007 indoor championship, the school record and the Big Meet record.
"Right now, this one tops it," she said. "There are so many things that come with the championship."
Of the sixteen Cal athletes who attended nationals, Johnson was one of two to earn top honors in the four-day competition. The other was senior Kelechi Anyanwu, who won the women's discus on Friday with a lifetime-best throw of 57.58 meters. The mark surpassed her previous school record of 56.67 meters.
"I thought it was wonderful, especially coming from a walk-on," assistant coach Tony Sandoval said of Anyanwu's performance. "It was great for her and great for the team."
Anyanwu and Johnson tallied 20 of 26 points for the Bears women, who finished in a program-best eighth place. The Cal men came in 65th place
with 2.50 points. Arizona State took the women's team title with 60 points, and Florida State claimed the men's title with 54 points.
Last year, Johnson placed third at nationals with a time of 2:03.04, and Sandoval said it was very exciting to see her eclipse the two-minute benchmark on the big stage.
"I knew it was a possibility, but I didn't know it would happen here," he said. "It's something that she's worked very hard for, and I'm very proud of her."
Johnson said breaking two minutes is a vital improvement because it is the standard for world championships and Olympic competition.
"(Sandoval) and I talked about going under two minutes," Johnson said. "Knowing that, I decided to go for it."
Michigan senior Katie Erdman, who closed in on Johnson near the end of the race, also broke the two-minute barrier. Erdman boasted the best collegiate time in the 800 going into the NCAA championships, but racing against Erdman did not bother Johnson in the lead-up to the race.
"I felt super confident (before the race)," Johnson said. "Tony and I have been gearing up for high-end competition, and I was feeling strong," Johnson said.
Even racing three times in four days could not slow Johnson down.
"Surprisingly, I felt really good after two rounds," she said. "Those rounds were comfortable for me."
With many of her family members on hand for the final, Johnson led the pack for the whole race to take the title.
"It was so sweet," Johnson said. "My body was telling me what to do, and I just listened."
Several other Bears added to the team total. Senior Carrie Johnson accrued three points, taking sixth place Friday with a throw of 64.32 meters in the women's hammer. The Cal women earned three more points from sophomore Inika McPherson, who also came in sixth with a mark of 1.80 meters in the women's high jump.
Ed Wright was the only male athlete to score points for the Bears. With a mark of 2.20 meters in the men's high jump, the junior tied with Nebraska junior Dusty Jonas for sixth place.
Steven Conrad achieved a personal record with 7,245 points in the decathlon, topping his total of 7,214 in late March, but the junior finished in 11th place. Junior Thomas Mack also recorded a personal best in the men's 110-meter hurdles, but he did not reach the final.
With their performances, Anyanwu, Alysia Johnson, Carrie Johnson, McPherson and sophomores Mackenzie Pierce and Emilee Strot have all qualified for the USATF outdoor championships, which begin June 20 at Carroll Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
(C) 2007 Daily Californian via CSTV U-WIRE