PULLMAN, Wash. – Triple jumper Darian Brooks came from behind to win the Pac-12 championship on the final jump of the competition Sunday, breaking a 44-year-old Stanford record in the process.
Brooks, who had triple-jumped in only one meet this year because of a heel injury, set lifetime bests on his final four jumps on the way to becoming Stanford’s first conference men’s triple jump champion since 1970.
Despite his career day, Brooks found himself trailing Arizona State’s Josh Dixon by ¾ of an inch with one jump left. Brooks responded with a 52-6 ¾ to win by 17 inches, breaking Allen Meredith’s longstanding Stanford mark of 52-3.
The victory was Stanford’s fourth of the two-day Pac-12 Championships at Washington State. The Stanford women tied for third with 75 points and the men were sixth with 71. It was a substantial improvement over last year when the women were fifth and the men 10th.
Stanford highlights Sunday included second-place finishes by Aisling Cuffe in the 1,500 and 5,000, freshman Valarie Allman in the women’s discus and Steven Solomon in the men’s 400 meters. Michael Atchoo provided a gutsy third-place in the men’s 1,500, and Nick Budincich earned a huge personal best to finish fifth in the discus.
“We were thrilled,” said Chris Miltenberg, Stanford’s Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field. “We’re pretty excited with how we’ve moved the needle with this program. Last year, the men scored only seven points in distances from 800 and above and last night we got 17 from the 10,000 alone. And if you look at where our points came from, they came from all over, the throws, jumps, and on the track.”
Brooks, though, stole the show as far as Stanford was concerned.
“That was the most exciting part of the meet,” Miltenberg said.
Brooks, competing in front of family, friends and others who had followed his career since his days as a state champion at Seattle’s Kennedy Catholic High, entered the meet with a personal record of 50-6 ¾.
However, Brooks also has been nursing a heel injury that has severely limited him this season and caused him to redshirt in 2013. He had competed only once in the triple jump this season – setting his personal best at the Stanford Invitational -- and hadn’t jumped at all since aborting a long jump attempt at the Big Meet against Cal on April 12.
Jumps coach Michael Eskind and Brooks struck a balance in striving to keep Brooks healthy for Pac-12s and the NCAA West Prelims in two weeks. So, they dialed back his competition and training with the understanding that Brooks doesn’t necessarily need to compete a lot to perform well.
“Darian was probably the most undertrained and least-competed athlete in the field,” Eskind said. “But we’ve known he was capable of big things since the testing we did in the fall. The ability level was there. He just needed to step up to competitions like this to bring it out.”
Brooks admitted to being extremely nervous, but said the heel was not a cause for worry.
“When you get into competition, the adrenaline is pumping,” Brooks said. “Even if I had broken my foot, it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have kept jumping.”
Brooks opened with a 49-6 ½, fouled on his next attempt and was in fifth place after two rounds. But his third jump – of 50-9 ¾ -- represented the turning point. Brooks moved into a tie for first and, more importantly, allowed him to jump last when the field was reseeded for the finals. That advantage would prove to be huge.
From that point on, Brooks felt that “whatever the next person jumps, I’m going to beat it,” he said.
That confidence never wavered, even though Brooks admitted to physically shaking as the competition unfolded.
With each of his last four attempts, Brooks jumped farther than he ever had before. He went 50-10 ¾ on his fourth jump to match Arizona’s Nick Ross for the lead, only to fall behind on Dixon’s fifth effort. Brooks reached 51-1 – the No. 6 jump in Stanford history – to draw agonizingly close on his next-to-last jump.
With the conference championship in the balance, Eskind felt the pressure was off on the decisive attempt.
“He’d already PR’d three times,” Eskind said. “I thought, if he finishes second, it still would be a great story. I was less nervous, and more excited.”
Standing on the runway, “I thought to myself, I spent all this time since September working for this moment,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t about PR’s. It was about showing support for the all the friends and family who have stood by me.
“I was feeling strong, I’ve been working for something special and I felt today had to be that day.”
What a day indeed. When Brooks descended into the sand, in an event in which improvement is marked by centimeters, he had jumped two feet farther than he’d jumped in any other meet in his life. The mark is the 10th-longest by a Division I jumper this year.
“He’s a whole new jumper now,” Eskind said. “He’s put himself on the national level.”
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Cuffe set a personal record in the 1,500, running 4:18.29. Cuffe took the lead early and pushed the pace, but was swallowed up by Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan with 200 meters to go. Stanford teammate Rebecca Mehra was third in 4:21.62.
Cuffe was not especially pleased with how she responded to the move and worked out a plan with Miltenberg to change things up for the 5,000, which would take place 2 hours and 35 minutes later. Again, Cuffe would face Houlihan.
The plan was to wait until four laps of the 12-plus lap race remained, and run negative splits on each of those laps, hopefully drawing the kick from Houlihan. Indeed, Cuffe ran her final four splits in roughly 74, 73, 71, and 66 seconds. Cuffe’s final 1,600 was 4:40.
But, again, Houlihan moved past with 200 remaining. This time, Cuffe refused to concede and pushed hard down the final stretch. Houlihan still pulled out the victory, but only by a narrow 16:11.63 to 16:11.97.
The men’s 1,500 quickly evolved into a duel between collegiate track and field’s two dominant runners, Arizona’s Lawi Lalang and Oregon’s Edward Cheserek. But a few seconds back, Atchoo made a bold move with 500 meters left to take the chase-pack lead.
Atchoo not only held the lead to finish third, but covered his final lap in 56 seconds, the fastest split in the field. Atchoo finished in 3:42.53, with teammate Tyler Stutzman sixth in 3:44.57.
Perhaps the two biggest surprises of the meet for Stanford were the performances of Budincich on Sunday and Jackson Shumway on Saturday.
Budincich, a sophomore, was the only competitor in the weaker first flight to advance to the finals in the discus. His third throw of 178-0 got him there. It was a nearly seven-foot improvement over his two-week old best of 171-1 from the Payton Jordan Invitational and was enough for fifth.
Shumway, also a sophomore, set a personal record for the second consecutive day in the 400 hurdles. He entered the competition as the No. 13 seed, qualified for the finals, and scored points with a sixth-place finish, clocking 53.12.
The men’s 400 was an anticipated showdown between Oregon’s World Championship 4x400 gold medalist Michael Berry and Solomon, the Australian Olympic finalist. It was indeed a two person race, but Berry was unbeatable, running 45.05 to set a track record. Solomon ran 45.79 for second, improving upon his third-place finish as a freshman.
In the women’s pole vault, Stanford senior Ellie McCardwell finished fourth by tying a season best 13-0 ¾. McCardwell therefore completed her Pac-12 career by finishing among the top five at the conference championships each year. McCardwell had a miss at her opening height of 12-0 ¾, but was clean at 12-6 ¾ and 13-0 ¾, before faltering at 13-4 ½.
In the women’s 800, an anticipated matchup between 2013 NCAA finalists, Oregon’s Laura Roesler and Stanford sophomore Amy Weissenbach, never took place. A sore foot prevented Weissenbach from toeing the line.
Miltenberg said Weissenbach could have run if this were an NCAA event, but “we wanted to be really cautious,” the coach said. “As much as we wanted to run her, it’s more important to have her ready for nationals. There’s no way we regret being cautious today. It was the smart choice.”
Roesler, the defending champion and reigning NCAA indoor champ, won the race, with Stanford sophomore Claudia Saunders fourth in 2:08.89. The time was skewed by a tactical first lap. Saunders came back in 61 for the second.
Sunday also marked the final day to earn qualifying times for the NCAA West Prelims, which take place May 29-31 in Fayetteville, Ark. The fields will be announced early this week.
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Sunday's winners (in Stanford's events) and Stanford results:
Team scores – 1, Oregon 163.25; 2, USC 99; 3, Arizona 83; 4, Arizona State 80.75; 5, Washington 75.25; 6, Stanford 71; 7, UCLA 68.25; 8, California 67; 9, Washington State 66.50; 10, Colorado 44.
400 – 1, Mike Berry (Oregon) 45.05; 2, Steven Solomon (Stanford) 45.79.
1,500 – 1, Lawi Lalang (Arizona) 3:36.34; 3, Michael Atchoo (Stanford) 3:42.53; 6, Tyler Stutzman (Stanford) 3:44.57; 9, Marco Bertolotti (Stanford) 3:46.35; 12, Justin Brinkley (Stanford) 3:53.97.
5,000 – 1, Lawi Lalang (Arizona) 13:41.44; 4, Jim Rosa (Stanford) 13:50.55; 5, Joe Rosa (Stanford) 13:50.59; 11, Erik Olson (Stanford) 14:21.31.
400 hurdles – 1, C.J. Allen (Washington State) 51.14; 6, Jackson Shumway (Stanford) 53.12, personal best.
4x400 relay – 1, Arizona State 3:07.10; 8, Stanford 3:16.15.
Triple jump – 1, Darian Brooks (Stanford) 52-6 ¾ (16.02m), personal record, school record.
Discus – 1, Julian Wruck (UCLA) 210-9 (64.25m); 5, Nick Budincich (Stanford) 178-0 (54.27m), personal best; 7, Lucas Rowley (Stanford) 173-3 (52.82m).
Team scores – 1, Oregon 176; 2, USC 145; 3 (tie), Stanford and Arizona State, each 75; 5, Arizona 74; 6, UCLA 68; 7, Washington 53; 8, Washington State 46.5; 9, California 44.5; 10, Colorado 33; 11, Utah 23; 12, Oregon State 2.
800 – 1, Laura Roesler (Oregon) 2:05.77; 4, Claudia Saunders (Stanford) 2:08.89; Amy Weissenbach (Stanford) DNS.
1,500 – 1, Shelby Houlihan (Arizona State) 4:15.67; 2, Aisling Cuffe (Stanford) 4:18.29, personal best; 3, Rebecca Mehra (Stanford) 4:21.62; 10, Cami Chapus (Stanford) 4:28.03.
5,000 – 1, Shelby Houlihan (Arizona State) 16:11.63; 2, Aisling Cuffe (Stanford) 16:11.97; 5, Jessica Tonn (Stanford) 16:23.50; 13, Vanessa Fraser (Stanford) 16:51.62; 17, Rebecca Mehra (Stanford) 17:05.60; 23, Megan Lacy (Stanford) 17:15.44; 28, Tate Murray (Stanford) 17:51.80; 30, Danielle Katz (Stanford) 17:58.77.
Pole vault – 1, Diamara Planell Cruz (Washington) 14-0 ½; 4, Ellie McCardwell (Stanford) 13-0 ¾ (3.98m).
Discus – 1, Alexandra Collatz (USC) 184-3; 2, Valarie Allman (Stanford) 181-5 (55.31m); 7, Rebecca Hammar (Stanford) 177-6 (54.10m).