FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Led by senior thrower Emily Hunsucker, on the final day of the NCAA Outdoor Track West Preliminaries four more University of Colorado performers joined three others who previously qualified in earning a trip to the NCAA Championships in two weeks.
Hunsucker started the day on a good note for the Buffaloes, and sophomore Carrie Verdon ended it on the same, with some success and disappointment in-between.
Hunsucker performed as advertised and then some in the hammer throw; coming in as the No. 3 seed, she registered a throw of 210-feet, 1-inch on her very first effort of the day, a distance that stood as the best for the remainder of the event. It was her third-best throw of the spring, just shy of her personal best of her school record throw of 212-11 in CU’s Jerry Quiller Classic in March, breaking her old mark she set last year.
In a dominant performance against her peers, Hunsucker’s subsequent throws covered 205-2, 204-9 and 204-11, which were also the longest tosses in rounds three through five (she fouled on her second and sixth attempts). A model of consistency, her four throws were all within five feet and four inches of each other, the smallest margin of the 12 who advanced to the finals at the NCAA Championships in Eugene in two weeks; other differences ranged up to as much as 35 feet. In all, there were just nine throws of 200-feet or longer, and Hunsucker had four of those; runner-up Kayla Kovar of Southern Utah was the only other with two, finishing the closest with a 205-2 effort on her last try.
Hunsucker will be looking to improve upon her ninth place finish in the 2013 championships, which earned her second-team All-America honors. Already just the fourth thrower in CU history to earn any kind of All-America mention, she’ll be attempting to join Melisa Weis (shot put/discus) who is the only one to earn the distinction twice back in the 1993 and 1994 meets.
“It was a really interesting day,” said Casey Malone, CU’s assistant who coaches the throw athletes. “Our goal going into it was essentially to have her throw a mark early that would get her through into the finals. Our hopes coming in here were that she could have a high level and consistent type of performance, which is what you need at the NCAA Championships. So this served as the perfect warm-up and a great trial run.”
“It’s a great sign for where Emily is currently at in both her training and her mentality,” he added. “It’s what helped her have such a consistent performance in a high pressure meet such as this. The weather here was perfect, there shouldn’t have been that kind of disparity between (each athlete’s individual) throws due to that, so it really came down to their approach and the pressure of each throw. Emily loves the championship environment and the excitement of it, and that really helped her perform her best.”
“Emily opened up right away with a really big mark, and maybe she put some fear into her opponents,” CU head coach Mark Wetmore said. “I could tell she was sky high, Casey really had her ready. Even her fouls exceeded 200 feet, both around 204, 205; she was impeccable. She looked great and I’m thrilled for her.”
“I had a rough (Pac-12) conference meet a couple of weeks ago,” Hunsucker said. “I went in on top and didn’t end up where I wanted (she finished fourth). But I think without that challenge, I wouldn’t have got to where I did today. I was maybe just a little too comfortable, so I reassessed things and had a great week of practice. This really was the NCAA round one, and all I wanted to do was get to the next round.”
Hunsucker was a little astonished that her first throw would be the best of the day in the 48-woman field.
“I was surprised (that it held up),” she said. “The way the draw worked, I was in the first couple of throwers, so knowing where you are and coming out and throwing that distance first might have shaken up the competition. I was actually a little disappointed that I didn’t throw better than that, but I’ll have another chance at the NCAA’s.”
In the men’s 1,500 meter run, both junior Jake Hurysz and freshman Ben Saarel advanced out of the quarterfinal heats to Eugene.
Saarel’s ran in the first heat, which would see the top seven finishers separated by less than two seconds. The lead group was essentially the same for the entire race, other than Southern Illinois’ Zach Daleen, who led at the 300- and 700-meter marks dropping back to an eventual 11th place finish. Saarel hung near the lead for the most part, other than a brief period when he slipped back into sixth at the 700-meter split, but he was less than half a second off the lead. He finished third with a 3:45.58 time, his fifth-best career clocking, and automatically advancing as the top five did so.
Hurysz finished fifth in the second heat in 3:41.75, which was run at a bit of a quicker pace than the first; his time was also fifth overall while Saarel’s was 12th. The two at-large qualifiers came out of the second heat, and two other performers with quicker times than everyone in the first heat failed to move on. Hurysz was among the lead pack the entire race and would finish in the second-fastest time he has ever recorded for a 1,500, behind only a 3:40.63 in Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invitational in 2013.
Sophomore Pierce Murphy, who missed qualifying for the 10,000 by one spot on Thursday, got a second dose of similar disappointment Saturday in the 5,000-meter run. He finished sixth in the first heat, one spot out of automatically qualifying, with a 14:20.81 time. It was his third-best effort of the spring, as he was among the leaders for the first four kilometers until a pack of five broke away. So he had to eyeball the timing of the second heat, which unfortunately for him would be run at a pace over half-a-minute faster than the first. The end result was Murphy finished 19th overall, as the top 11 times in the second heat were all faster than the winning one posted for the first (14:11.57 by Oregon’s Eric Jenkins).
“He missed twice by a narrow margin, but he’s a sophomore and he’ll learn from this experience,” Wetmore said. “In distance running, the name of the game is how many miles you can bank. He’ll remember this for a little while and then go back to work. He has a great future ahead of him and this will make him stronger in the long run.”
Both Saarel and Hurysz had less than 90 minutes to gather themselves to run in the first heat of the 5,000, with Saarel finishing 19th in the heat with a 14:53.6 time and Hurysz 21st in 15:05.8; in-between was junior Morgan Pearson in 20th in 1501.4. Saarel and Hurysz were well off a minute of their season bests, as was Pearson who finished in 15:01.4. Once the second heat was complete, the trio finished 40th, 42nd and 44th overall.
“I was thrilled with the guys in the 1500, both again ran very businesslike races,” Wetmore noted. “They ran smart from the get-go and put themselves in the hunt right away. Often in these weather conditions, these things can get tactical often to the point of stupidity.” The conditions Wetmore were referring to were hot, humid and windy.
Senior Joe Bosshard, who qualified for the 10K on Thursday, finished 11th in the second heat and thus overall with a 14:02.50 time, his season best in the event. Sophomore Connor Winter placed 29th in 14:36.50 to round out the six Buffaloes competing in the 5K.
In the women’s 5,000, the final event with a Colorado entry, Verdon made her move over the last fourth of the race (heat No. 2) and zoomed into a fifth place finish in her heat and overall in a 16:06.71 time, her second fastest time of the spring and her career, one that was just under six seconds off her personal best. Running comfortably in the second grouping for most of the race and hanging around ninth place or so, she ran her three fastest 400-meter splits – 1:15:28, 1:15.99 and 1:09.64 – over the last 1200 meters.
“Once we knew what times were posted in the first heat, the plan was to keep on pace to be on pace to be competitive with the time qualifiers from the previous heat,” Wetmore said. “It turned out that her race was quite a bit faster than that, so it was a matter of being prudent when other people weren’t. It turned into a case of attrition for many, but Carrie kept running faster and faster at the end. She has more leg speed than most would guess.”
Senior Abby Levene closed out her collegiate career in the 5K with a 16:46.98 time, which placed her 13th in her heat and 27th overall.
In the women’s high jump, CU junior and co-No. 4 seed Kelsey English did not advance to the finals. The two-sport athlete (she’s a middle blocker in volleyball) tied for 25th overall in clearing 5-7¾; she topped the first mark of 5-5¾ in one jump but needed the last of three tries to best the next level, some two inches higher. The top 10 all cleared 5-9¾ but no higher, with the next 20 performers all besting the same mark as English; the final 12 were determined on the number of misses out of three tries to top that height followed by a “jump off” among the eight performers who remained tied.