Day two of the NAIA Indoor National Championships gave Westmont Track and Field much to smile about by the day’s end. While Friday’s highlight was an All-American relay, several other performances allowed the Warriors to collectively hold their heads high.
“It was a good day,” said Westmont head coach Russell Smelley. “They were more focused today and achieved what they knew they could.”
Anneline Breytenbach started things off on the right foot for the Warriors when she competed in the women’s mile. Breytenbach competed in the first heat of the event, and finished the race in the middle of the pack with a time of 5:05.59.
With the second heat still to come, Breytenbach was left to hold her breath while still trying to catch it, not knowing if she would get the opportunity to compete in the finals. Once the final heat finished, and the board lit up with the event’s finalists, Breytenbach saw her name. The sophomore earned the final spot, after finishing with the 10th best time in the preliminaries.
Breytenbach will compete for All-American status in the women’s mile at 10:25 a.m. PDT on Saturday.
“I felt excited going in, but my legs let me know they were tired after yesterday,” offered Breytenbach. “It’s stressful watching that second heat while just wondering what’s going to happen. Regardless, I knew I ran as hard as I could, but it definitely felt good seeing my name back up on the board.”
Zola Sokhela and Adam King were the next Warriors to compete, this time in the men’s mile. King took part in the first heat, and finished the event in 4:18.36, which placed him 18th in the event.
Sokhela took part in the second heat, and put on a show running alongside Oklahoma City’s Shimales Abebe. Sokhela took an early lead for the first half of the mile, then found himself running behind Abebe as the pack entered the final 400.
Ultimately, Abebe came in a hair ahead of Sokhela with a time of 4:14.03. Sokhela finished the event in 4:14.17. Immediately upon crossing the finish line, the two competitors reached out for one another and shook hands, appreciating the greatness of one another.
Both Sokhela and Abebe will compete for the National Championship in the men’s mile on Saturday at 10:35 a.m. PDT.
“The mile is going to be a really good competition with the Oklahoma City guys,” offered Sokhela. “I look forward to it a lot. Abebe is fun to compete against. We’ve had many conversations before these races and I have a lot of respect for him.”
In the afternoon, Abigail Hundley competed in the women’s 1000 meter run prelims, and Kari Anema took part in the 3000 meter prelims. For Hundley, the freshman finished in 14th place with a time of 3:04.76, and for Anema, also a freshman, she came in with a time of 10:31.17.
A trio of Warriors took part in the men’s 1000 meter prelims, with Sokehla and Jason Peterson competing in the first heat, and Jack Vanden Heuvel competing in the second. Peterson came in with a time of 2:36.22, which was 20th amongst the two heats. Sokhela led his heat the entire way, finishing with a time of 2:27.48, and earning himself a place in Saturday’s finals.
Vanden Heuvel’s 1000 was perhaps the most entertaining finish of the day, as the freshman literally put his body on the line in hopes of qualifying for the finals. Vanden Heuvel led for the first 600 meters of the race, before falling towards the middle of the pack during the final lap.
Then, a burst of speed brought on by sheer will allowed Vanden Heuvel to once again run among the front of the pack. The Healdsburg native put his head down and charged through the finish with everything he had, and for the second time in as many days, this resulted in a hard fall at the finish line for Vanden Heuvel.
Upon finishing the race, Vanden Heuvel got his feet caught up with another competitor, and dropped to the ground face first. While the athlete is sure to feel the consequences in the coming days, the pain quickly subsided when he got to his feet and saw the scoreboard.
Vanden Heuvel finished the 1000 meter race in 2:29.28, meaning on Saturday at 12:35 p.m. PDT, he will compete alongside Sokhela in the finals.
“Today’s fall definitely felt better than yesterday’s,” said a grinning Vanden Heuvel. “I came out in the lead there for the first 600, which wasn’t my plan or in my best interest. However, it was awesome to be in that spot. When they did pass me, it was important to assert myself and stay on their shoulders.”
While Abby Rumohr narrowly missed All-American status in the women’s pole vault, the sophomore won the day in the eyes of her coach and her peers, after breaking her own personal record on multiple occasions.
Rumohr cleared the first two marks (3.32m, 3.42m) with relative ease on her first attempts. Then, she stared down elimination after being unable to clear 3.47m (11-4.5) on her first two attempts. Rumohr shared a word with Coach Tim FitzSimons before gathering herself for one final attempt.
Then, on her third attempt at 3.47m, Rumohr flew beyond the bar and landed while clenching her fists in celebration.
“I was so excited,” smiled Rumohr. “Something wakes up in you when it’s the third attempt. You have to treat every single bar like it’s that third attempt, but your brain knows and treats it differently than any of the other bars.”
Rumohr set a new personal record on her next attempt, clearing 3.52m (11-6.5) without grazing the bar. Then came the 3.57m (11-8.5) mark. On her second attempt, Rumohr successfully cleared the bar herself, but as she dismounted, her pole caught the bar and dislodged it at the final second.
Rumohr was unable to clear the bar on her final attempt, but nonetheless, she was greeted with high fives and hugs by her companions in cardinal.
“I’m really proud of myself,” expressed Rumohr. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this and feel like my time has finally come. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to get All-American, but I have to rejoice in the success I had today.”
“Abby Rumohr is probably the story of the day,” offered Smelley. “She set three personal bests at different poles, and competed like a champion. Kudos to her.”
The day came to a close with the men’s 4×800 relay finals. Last night, the relay team consisted of Andres Leon, Peterson, King, and Sokhela. Tonight, in order to allow Sokhela to be best prepared for Saturday’s individual finals, Smelley and the Warriors opted to run without their bonafide anchor.
Before the race, King and company shared their desire to come in ahead of at least one opponent, in hopes of doing more than just banking of an eight-place All-American finish.
Tonight, Ben Bodine ran with the first baton and handed it off to John Baker. Then, Baker handed it off to Leon, who put their hopes in the hands of King, who was Friday night’s anchor. Ultimately, the relay team finished the event in 7:52.35, which was 0:00.32 faster than the eighth-place team.
Bodine, Baker, Leon, and King earned NAIA All-American honors with a seventh place finish in the 4×800 relay.
“I felt good, but man, my legs felt heavy after the previous races,” said King. “Andres had a great leg and caught us back up, putting us within striking distance. Honestly, I thought I was going to drop (the eighth-place finisher) sooner, but he stuck right there until the end.
“Physically, the race hurt, but being All-Americans makes it all worth it.”
“Beating that team was a nice achievement for those guys,” said Smelley. “They ran the same time they did at outdoors, with a variety of guys you wouldn’t have picked at the start of the year. It was great.”
Saturday will bring a close to the NAIA Indoor National Championships, with Westmont having several chances to revisit the podium as they did on Friday. Links to live coverage are available on the Westmont Athletics website.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.