EUGENE, Ore. – Jim Rosa earned Stanford’s first points of the NCAA Track and Field Championships, placing sixth in the men’s 10,000 meters at Hayward Field on Wednesday.
Rosa ran a personal record 28:57.51 by deftly moving up through the field, and earned first-team All-America honors by finishing among the top eight.
Rosa’s performance highlighted a strong opening day for Stanford runners. All three Stanford 800-meter runners – Claudia Saunders and Amy Weissenbach among the women and Luke Lefebure among the men -- advanced to the finals through their performances in semifinal heats.
In field event finals, Stanford’s three-time Pac-12 women’s javelin champion Brianna Brain placed ninth with a top throw of 171-9, and freshman Dylan Duvio was 17th in the men’s pole vault, clearing 17-2 ¾.
Rosa decided to run conservatively early on, a wise choice considering that a pack of five that included Oregon’s three-time NCAA champion Edward Cheserek and Texas Tech’s 2012 NCAA cross country champion Kennedy Kithuka broke out quickly.
“I executed my race plan,” Rosa said. “I wanted to go out pretty conservatively and pick people off the entire race. I knew no one was challenging the guys up front.”
Before the race, Rosa looked over the results of past NCAA 10,000 finals and took a hard look at his competition. He determined that a time around 29 minutes would secure fifth or sixth place. He also knew that would accomplish his goal of being the top American runner in the field. He figured that 4:48 splits for 1,600 meters (four laps) would get him there, but that opening with that time would probably put him around last place.
That was fine. Rosa remained near the end of the 24-runner field, even occupying last place briefly in the early laps. But as the runners began to fade, Rosa remained consistent and began to catch them.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year is that you can make up a lot of ground on people who go out even a little bit too hard,” Rosa said. That was the formula he used in placing fifth and finishing as the top American-born runner at the NCAA cross country championships last fall.
“It’s definitely hard being that far back,” Rosa said. “You have to have confidence in yourself to run like that. You have to be willing to be patient.”
As runners grew weary, Rosa grew stronger. His final 1,600 (just short of a mile) of 4:24.73 was his fastest of the race and his time of 28:57.51 marked his first foray under 29 minutes.
His one source of disappointment, however slight, was that Oregon’s Trevor Dunbar passed him on the final lap to finish fifth and grab the mantle of America’s top collegiate distance runner.
One final note on Rosa: He was happy the meet began so soon after finals. He took his last final on Tuesday night at the hotel. It was an optimization course in his major of management science and engineering. He felt the distraction of studying was good for him by taking his mind off running.
Rosa’s three points were significant because it already marks an improvement for the Stanford men, who were shut out in last year’s NCAA championship meet, and five other Cardinal men are still to compete.
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For Bain, Wednesday’s performance needed to be put in the proper context.
Bain was coming off NCAA finishes of third in 2013 and second in 2012, but had been nursing an arm injury this season.
Her best throw of 171-9 came on her third attempt, and was a huge improvement – 14 feet, 6 inches to be exact – over her second throw. It got her into the final and the opportunity for three more attempts, but she did not improve.
The result was hard to fathom in one respect. Bain couldn’t help but compare her performance to those of the past two years. However, Bain also didn’t throw for more than three weeks late in the season because of a strained ulnar collateral ligament in her throwing elbow.
She won another Pac-12 title after the injury, but has had a difficult time feeling “right” in competition since. Wednesday was another example.
“I really wanted to throw today,” Bain said. “I felt I was mentally prepared. But after the first couple of throws, I felt I was physically deteriorating.”
Still, Bain summoned something extra for that third throw.
“I told myself, I needed to make the finals,” she said. “I’ve done this before. I kind of willed it out there. That was the value of experience. I was happy with the way I competed.”
Sure, there was disappointment, but Bain also felt the need to see the big picture.
“I really have to look at where I’m at,” she said. “I need to be in the moment now and appreciate it for what it is.”
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Stanford men and women are in position to earn points in the 800.
Saunders ran a personal record 2:02.68 – Improving on her No. 3 position on Stanford’s all-time list – and fellow sophomore Weissenbach also finished second in her 800 section to earn automatic berths in Friday’s final (5:25 p.m.).
Stanford junior Lefebure ran a lifetime best of 1:48.46 to advance to Friday’s men’s final (5:15 p.m.), qualifying on time.
Saunders, a hurdler in high school and in only her second season focusing on the 800, ran a smart race. She even appeared relaxed down the stretch of the first heat as she cruised to a lifetime best, faster than her 2:03.44 from the Payton Jordan Invitational.
Knowing that meet favorite Laura Roesler of Oregon does not like to lead, Saunders patiently remained in the pack with an eye on Roesler, even as Saunders was jostled at the bell.
When Roesler made a move to the front with 200 to go, Saunders went with her, pushing forward from fourth. Saunders simply followed Roesler to the line, remaining a step behind as Roesler clocked 2:02.60. They were the fastest of the day’s competitors.
Weissenbach ran 2:04.46 to finish second to Iowa State’s Ejiroghene Okoro (2:04.28) in the second heat. Weissenbach’s path was not as smooth. She was boxed on the inside rail for most of the race and had to keep her balance during contact in a tight pack on the final lap.
As the pack rounded the turn into the homestretch, Weissenbach tried to squeeze through on the inside, but found her path blocked. Instead, she bolted sharply into lane two and found room outside to stride out to the finish.
This will be the second consecutive NCAA final for Weissenbach, who placed sixth last year. This marks the first individual final, indoors or outdoors, for Saunders.
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With only two automatic spots available in each heat, Lefebure’s section looked formidable, with the two fastest collegians in the country, and three of the top five, in the race.
Rutto shattered the Payton Jordan Invitational record on May 4 by running 1:45.37 at Cobb Track and Angell Field.
Lefebure, a math and computational science major who carries a 3.84 cumulative grade-point average, opened with a 52.34 first lap. He moved into fourth on the backstretch of the final lap and passed a fading Eliud Rutto, the Middle Tennessee State sophomore who shattered the Payton Jordan Invitational record in May, down the stretch to capture third.
Lefebure Is assured of his first individual All-America honor. His time (1:48.46) was the fourth-fastest of the day, and bettered his previous best of 1:48.79 from the Big Meet. Not a bad rebound for Lefebure, who didn’t make the Pac-12 final.
Duvio cleared the opening height of 16-8 ¾ on his second try and made 17-2 ¾ on his first. This gave him three attempts at a personal record 17-8 1/2, but without success.
The four-day meet continues Thursday with four Stanford athletes in action: Lucas Rowley in the men’s hammer throw trials and final (1:30 p.m.), Valarie Allman in the women’s discus trials and final (2 p.m.), Michael Atchoo in the men’s 1,500 semifinals (4:30 p.m.), and Rebecca Mehra in the women’s 1,500 semifinals (4:45 p.m.
Coverage on ESPN3.com begins at 3:55 p.m.
800 (semifinals) – 4, Luke Lefebure 1:48.46 (personal record). Lefebure advanced to Friday’s final.
10,000 (final) – 6, Jim Rosa 28:57.51.
Pole vault (final) – 17, Dylan Duvio 17-2 ¾ (5.25m).
800 (semifinals) – 2, Claudia Saunders 2:02.68 (personal record; No. 3 Stanford all-time); 6, Amy Weissenbach 2:04.46. Saunders and Weissenbach advanced to Friday’s final.
Javelin (final) – 9, Brianna Bain 171-9 (52.35m).