June 8, 2006
A beautiful Sacramento, CA evening welcomed the endurance specialists in the 10,000m finals at the 2006 NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships. For the Gauchos and junior Stephanie Rothstein, it also became a special night as UCSB fans and family that drove all night from Phoenix, AZ, came out to witness the harrier in her first National Championships.
Twenty-seven of the best collegiate and American 10k athletes toed the line at 7:20pm. Racing a twenty-five lap event tests not only one's physical endurance, but mental strength; a race that has suited Rothstein's ability to challenge herself and grind out mile after mile in years of training. Reading like a novel, her career at UCSB has been questioned due to financial concerns and hampered by three seasons of track injuries. It has been an emotional rollercoaster nothing short of exciting as her grit continues to propel her and a squad to the upper echelons of collegiate cross country and track and field.
With the starter firing away, the women began their endeavor. After one lap at 83 seconds, the leaders dropped a 74 with Rothstein nicely bunched in the pack. Back on March 31st when she ran her qualifying time of 33:27, Rothstein went out 80 points coming through 5,000m in 16:47. Today she would come close to that pace with successive laps of 80 and 81 points. At 5,000m she was in chase pack number two sitting in 15th place coming through 5k in approximately 16:52.
Three women had gone out quick, stringing out the field and putting 20 meters on the first chase pack composed of another four women including the top ranked in the field. Just after 5k, the chase pack would catch the leaders. Rothstein continued to race within a group of seven, taking a lap, however fourteen laps into it she would slow down to 83's and 84's. She found herself in 12th on the sixteenth lap, with 7th and 8th place, the final two All-American positions in striking distance.
Five laps to go, 7th and 8th now a bit farther ahead, Rothstein fought with an athlete from Harvard as they sat in 9th and 10th respectively. One woman from Wisconsin who had gone out with the leaders was fadin. Only four weeks ago, Rothstein found out that she had been racing with low iron levels since her big 10k in March. However, two Conference Championship titles later in May, and the month of April was only a bad memory.
83 seconds, lap twenty-one; still in 10th place. Three laps to go, another 83. Harvard and UCSB were neck and neck, closing the gap on 8th place Wisconsin. 800m to go; an 82 second lap only closed the gap a bit and the Harvard athlete attempted to break Rothstein at the bell. Not to be outdone, Rothstein put her head down and blazed the second to last turn moving into 9th place and pulling away. Wisconsin was now coming back fast. The Gaucho entered the final 200m in a sprint, moving into the final All-American spot, 8th place.
Rothstein would cross the line in 34:07.26, but this chapter in her life-long novel could not yet be closed. A small amount of controversy as the final results were tallied had left her in 9th place. One of Providence's athletes had finished a lap short and was, for the moment, placed in 7th. Protests by coaches, including UCSB's Pete Dolan, were heard and the 7th place finisher was disqualified much to the relief of Rothstein, the fans and family who had placed her in 8th. An hour later the chapter could officially be closed.
Competing on Wednesday evening, Megan Lewis (Jr.) and Bethany Nickless (So.) also made their first NCAA appearance in the semifinals of the 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase respectively. Toeing to the line first just at 7:00pm, Nickless would attempt to make finals after a magical race two weeks ago at the NCAA West Regional Championships when she took down her school record by another 13 seconds to 10:18.
Getting out in a quick 78 second lap, Nickless hung around the back of the pack, staying clear of the field of fourteen which started semifinal number two. Lap two slowed down to an 81 and Nickless was beginning to fight herself and the others to stay within reach of one of the five automatic qualifying positions into finals. Unfortunately each successive lap would slow down a second as she was unable to regain the speed she showed in Provo, UT. Nevertheless, Nickless would cross the line in 10:33.09, her third fastest time of her career, in 11th place. One of the youngest athletes in the field, Nickless will have two more years of collegiate eligibility for the Gauchos and enter the 2007 campaign as a seasoned veteran.
Next up just before 8:00pm, Lewis also stepped to the line in a second section, this time in the 5,000m semi-finals. Racing consistently and improving in meet after meet over the last three years for UCSB, she qualified as the last at-large slot for the National Championships after a great race at Hayward Field where she dropped a 16:28 personal best. Needing to improve seven places on her 23rd place rank coming in, it would take another best to make it into finals.
Out in 78 seconds for the first lap, Lewis made a place for her towards the back of the pack. The field then slowed down substantially to 82 seconds and 83 seconds on the second and third laps. Coming across the first mile after a 78 second fourth lap in 5:21, the leaders began to pick it up. Lewis made a move to the middle of the pack during the next few laps, dropping 78's and 77's for a 5:10 middle mile. Unfortunately, tired legs that have followed her since the NCAA Regional Championships caught up to her as the ninth lap was an 81 second lap. Falling off of the group to qualify into finals, she fought to keep her head in it. She would cross the finish line in 12th place, in a time of 16:47.17.