BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Senior Hope Bender received First-Team All-American honors this past Friday at the NCAA Division 1 Indoor Track and Field Championships by finishing sixth place in the women's pentathlon scoring 4262 points, a huge improvement on her 12th place finish at the national meet back in 2018. En route to her finish, she would set an unofficial indoor school record in the pentathlon, surpassing UC Santa Barbara ICA Hall of Famer and 2016 US Olympian Barbara Nwaba's score of 4244 by just 18 points. Bender's sixth place finish is now the second highest a Gaucho has ever placed at the indoor national meet behind Nwaba's fourth place finish back in 2012.
Hope would begin her competition Friday morning at the Birmingham Indoor Crossplex facility with an unconventional start in the 60m hurdles, clocking 8.56 to start the competition back in tenth place. It was the slowest hurdles mark she had put up all season, putting her in a precarious situation considering her hurdling is usually her strong suit.
"Just like any other multi, it was quite the roller coaster," said Interim Head Coach Gray Horn. "We ran our worst hurdle race of the year to open the competition."
If the senior had been phased by this shaky start at the national meet at all, it would not show as she would move on to set a new personal best in the high jump right after with a mark of 1.72m. From there, things would really turn into Hope's favor as she would launch a throw of 12.66m in the shot put to set another personal best by nearly 0.4m. With a fifth place finish in that event, she'd move all the way up to eighth in total scoring heading into the final two events.
"Most would have faltered and let the negative energy take over [after that first event]. Not Hope. She dug deep and fought her way back," continued Gray.
With the long jump after, Hope would need just one decent mark to stay in contention for a top eight finish going into the 800m. With her first two attempts at just past 5.50m, Hope would put things together and take off from the board to put up a jump of 5.71m, just enough to keep her in ninth place with the last event remaining.
Known to really shine in the last event when it counts, Bender would make sure to secure her position by going out right with the leaders hard in 64 seconds for the first 400m. Her efforts would prove to pay off as she'd hang on to finish second in that event with an indoor best time of 2:13.62, moving her up three spots in the total scoring to complete her All-American pursuit in sixth place.
"Overall, I'm pleased with how the day went," said an ecstatic Hope. "It definitely wasn't the route I envisioned to taking All-American, but time and time again I'm shown that there are a lot of ways to get to a big score [in the multis]. It was a tough day but having PRs in both the high jump and shot as well as running an indoor PR in the 800 was really exciting."
When asked about her expectations for the upcoming outdoor season, the senior would keep things simple and effective. "I don't want to put any numbers or expectations on this season. I just want to continue to improve, get stronger, and be more consistent, and hopefully things will come together when it matters."