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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Track earns national honors throughout summer

    Between successful runs at the NCAA Championships and the Olympic Trials, it was a busy summer overall for the Arizona track and field teams.

    Amidst fierce thunderstorms throughout the Midwest in mid-June, the Wildcats found spots of sunlight at the NCAA Championships, which took place at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

    With 16 athletes qualifying for the championships, Arizona saw five earn All-American honors and one take home an individual national championship.

    Bringing home the hardware for the Wildcats was high jumper Liz Patterson. The championship was the first of the sophomore’s career, but it did not come easily.

    Coming into the meet ranked No. 2 overall in the event, Patterson launched over her first five bars without error, putting herself in perfect position heading into her final jump.

    Her main contenders for the 1.89 meter (6 feet, 2 and 1/4 inch) jump were Auburn’s Raevan Harris and Cal Poly’s Sharon Day – the sister of Arizona jumper and soccer player Jasmine Day. Working to Patterson’s advantage, however, were faults in the early jumps by both contenders.

    Therefore, when Patterson failed on her three attempts at the new height, by virtue of a tiebreaker, all she needed was for Harris and Day to also come up short.

    “”I was really nervous,”” Patterson said of watching Day’s final jump. “”I really wanted to just make my jump so I could relax a little, but I missed it and had to rely on (Harris and Day) missing their jumps.””

    Patterson watched Harris miss her third and final attempt and then the anxiety began to grow as Day prepared for her final jump. But ultimately, the bar came crashing down, sealing the championship for Patterson.

    While the title was Patterson’s first, it was nothing new for UA jumps and multi-events coach Sheldon Blockburger, who saw his tally grow to four in as many years.

    At the end of his third year at Arizona, Blockburger also coached UA decathlete Jake Arnold to back-to-back titles in his first two years.

    In 2005, prior to joining the Wildcats, the then-Cal Poly assistant coached Sharon Day to a championship.

    “”It was surprising,”” Blockburger said of Patterson’s championship weekend. “”She made a big turnaround from how she jumped on Wednesday where she almost didn’t make it to the finals. But she really stepped it up and had a great day.””

    Although Arizona failed to capture more titles during the meet, the team did crown five All-American athletes.

    Most unique was a trio of honors in men’s shot put as Zack Lloyd, Shawn Best, and Jarred Sola all were named to the All-America team, making it the first time in Arizona men’s track and field history that three athletes were given the honor in the same event.

    The NCAA Championship wasn’t the last news from the Arizona track team over the summer as seven current athletes participated at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.

    These trials would be as far as the current athletes could go, however, as none qualified for Beijing.

    The same could not be said for former Arizona athletes and coaches though, as Dominic Johnson, a ’98 grad, and Abdi Abdirahman, a ’99 grad, both earned spots on Olympic squads.

    Also earning a trip to Beijing was current UA assistant coach James Li, who traveled to China as a manager for the U.S. men’s team.

    Li earned accolades as one of the country’s top long distance coaches and has coached both Abdirahman and fellow U.S. athlete Bernard Lagat – the brother of current UA cross country runner Irine Lagat.

    “”The person who is most important (on a track team) is the head manager,”” UA head coach Fred Harvey said. “”You need a person who’s willing to work at all hours and also someone who knows the culture of the country you’re competing in; that’s coach Li.

    “”Secondly, he is a tremendous track and field coach. Those things combined give you exactly the right man for the job.””

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