Idaho faced many ups and downs at the WAC Indoor Track and Field Championships Thursday through Saturday. The Vandals ended with 10 First-Team All-WAC honors and 10 second-team honors while the men finished fifth with 64 points and the women finished sixth with 71.50 points. First-Team All-WAC honors went to athletes finishing in the top three while second-team honors went to athletes finishing fourth through sixth.
“I thought we had some great individual performances,” Idaho coach Julie Taylor said. “I thought we could maybe do a little bit better as a team but we had some outstanding people. The competition was really good with the changeover in our conference.”
On the men’s side, Texas-San Antonio came out victorious with 159 points, while Texas State won on the women’s side with 122 points. Last season, the Idaho men won the WAC Indoor Championship, competing against just two opposing teams. With the addition of the Texas schools to the WAC, the conference has become visibly tougher.
“It’s definitely a deeper conference than we had last year,” Taylor said. “In the long run, I think it’s going to be a good thing for outdoors, but we need to get everybody to compete well and compete at that level if they can.”
The highlight of the meet for the Vandals was distance runner Barry Britt. The senior won the men’s 5,000-meter run on Friday in 14 minutes, 53.56 seconds before coming back to take the victory in the men’s 3,000 in 8:29.85 on Saturday. He won the two longest races in the meet by a combined 17.05 seconds. Britt’s performances earned him Track Performer of the Year and the WAC High Point Award, and he is the first Vandal to ever win both the 5,000 and 3,000 in the same conference meet.
“Barry was amazing,” Taylor said. “He basically ran the race in lane two because he was passing so many kids, but he looked so dominant and strong throughout both races.”
Britt wasn’t the only distance runner to impress. Junior Hannah Kiser beat her own WAC record in the women’s 3,000 by almost five seconds, finishing in 9:40.35 — more than 15 seconds ahead of the next competitor.
Kiser was also a member of Idaho’s winning distance medley relay team with freshman Marquita Palmer and seniors Lauren Schaffer and Liga Velvere. The team won the race in 11:46.10 while finishing more than 10 seconds ahead of the second place finishers.
Velvere also defended her title in the 800, winning the event for the third consecutive year in 2:08.53.
“Liga was very good,” Taylor said. “At one point it looked like she got blocked in but then she took control and really left the rest of the group. She’s a great person to have on your team because she finds a way to win every time.”
The Idaho women’s 4×400-meter relay team crossed the finish line in second place, but they are first place in the Vandal record books. Junior Karlene Hurrel and senior Keli Hall joined Velvere and Schaffer to run a time of 3:41.57 and break the previous school record of 3:43.48 from the 2001 season.
Back on the men’s side, sophomore sprinter Ben Ayesu-Attah won the 400 with a career-best time of 47.23. His time brings him down to No. 49 in the NCAA so far this season. Junior Andrew Bloom, who was also expected to contend in the 400, did not finish his race in the preliminary round so he didn’t compete in the finals.
“He was actually in really good position … and he actually ended up falling,” Taylor said. “He said he actually got pushed and we appealed it but apparently somebody didn’t see it.”
Despite finishing third, the men’s 4×400-meter relay team broke the previous WAC record by almost a full second. Ayesu-Attah, Bloom, sophomore Jesse Villines and freshman Ian Middleton crossed the finish line in 3:12.41. The teams from the Texas-San Antonio and Texas State took first and second, as they also broke the previous WAC record of 3:13.33.
With the conclusion of the WAC Indoor Championships, the majority of the team will take a brief break before preparing for the outdoor season next month. A couple of Vandals will compete this weekend in the Husky Last Chance Qualifier for a chance to run at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at Fayetteville, Ark., March 8-9.
“Most of our group will take a little time to recover,” Taylor said. “We’ll focus on getting prepared for the outdoor season. We have some kids that only have outdoor eligibility and we have some kids that are just outdoor athletes, so it will be fun to add those guys into the mix.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com