Eugene, Ore. - UCSB Senior Tori Usgaard battled rain, wind and hail to earn USTFCCCA Second Team All-American honors in the heptathlon Saturday afternoon at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field. Usgaard, the 24th and final qualifier into the NCAA Championship heptathlon, maintained a steady presence throughout the two days of competition and moved from 17th into the last All-American slot of 16th in the final event of the competition, the 800m.
Usgaard's final tally of 5245 was well off her qualifying performance but early on it became evident the meet would be more about placing than scoring. Out of 24 competitors not one athlete achieved a lifetime best score.
Just before the first event of the competition, the 100m hurdles, the Northwest skies of Eugene started dumping rain. With temperatures in the low 50's combined with puddles in each lane, the athletes also had to deal with headwind conditions.
Usgaard opened with a 14.38 clip, one of 11 women over 14 seconds in the race.
The rain carried into the high jump, albeit lighter, where Usgaard managed a clearance of 5'3, a bear she cleared on a clutch third attempt, just off her season best of 5'4.25.
During the shot put it started to really come down but it didn't stop Usgaard from launching a throw of 35'4.75, the third best shot put heave of her career.
The athletes took a four hour break before the 200m, where they once again faced a stiff headwind. Usgaard executed a strong race and finished in 25.77.
She went into the clubhouse after day one in 18th place.
Usgaard, a soon to be Chemical Engineering graduate, started the second day with a fine leap of 19'1.75 in the long jump, bringing her back into contention.
Then it hailed.
Competing in the penultimate event, the javelin, Usgaard had to take cover before her second attempt as M&M sized ice started falling onto the runway. She steered clear of danger but could only produce a throw of 108'5- her lowest mark of the season.
She sat in 17th place before the final event of the competition, the 800m.
Needing to move up one place to earn All-American status, Usgaard stuck to her race plan and delivered the race of her life in front of a Hayward Field capacity crowd. After two days of difficult conditions the weather actually broke for the 800m race, with scant rays of sun breaking into the stadium.
After hitting a first lap split of 66.0, Usgaard started to kick with 300m to go. She steadily built momentum into the final straight and crossed the line with a strong lean at 2:17.60, moving her up one spot to 16th.
"Tori did an outstanding job these past two days staying the course. The conditions were rough but everyone had to deal with them. I've been fortunate to have seen her grow up these past five years and that 800m race pretty much sums it all up. She's weathered the storm and in the end she finished strong." said UCSB Coach Cody Fleming.
Jenna Hinkle Takes Home Honorable Mention All-American Honors
UCSB Junior Jenna Hinkle placed 19th in the women's 1500m after running 4:21.11 in Thursday's semi-final. Hinkle earned USTFCCCA Honorable Mention honors for her performance.
Hinkle was seeded in the second of two semi races, usually an advantage as the runners in the second race have the ability to see what the times in the first heat were. With two semi races the top five in each heat would advance with the next two fastest times also advancing to the final.
Heat one went out scorching hot with 4:12 clips currently holding the key into Saturday's final.
Heat two would have to be fast.
Only when the gun went off, the runners settled into a tactical race almost immediately.
Hinkle held good position through the first two laps, with the second seeing a slight increase in pace.
When the runners took the turn into the third lap the real race began.
The pace went from strong to sprint in an instant and Hinkle did a good job responding to the initial surge. But as the runners approached the home straight with 500m to go the chase pack broke loose as the leaders went wide open into the bell lap.
Hinkle covered the last lap in a fine 64 seconds, finishing just short of an automatic bid into the final.
Despite the slow start, she still managed to run 4:21.11, the third fastest time of her career.
Hinkle placed seventh on her heat.
"Racing Nationals at Hayward Field is something I have always dreamed of and I feel really grateful to have gotten the opportunity to compete amongst the best runners in the nation. I would have loved to make it to finals, but I think both Regionals and Nationals have made me feel a lot more comfortable with championship style racing and given me both the experience and confidence I need to make it all the way next year." said Hinkle.