The Captains and the Monarchs of Methodist contested a hard-fought, close meet at the Indoor Championships in spite of the Monarchs entering as heavy favorites on paper. The Outdoor Mason-Dixon Championships looked very similar on paper - big edge to the Green - but everyone involved expected another great battle for the Title.
How does it feel to go in to a Conference Championships meet seeded with 65 more points than your nearest competitor - without even counting your defending 5k/10k Champion? After the Captains erased a similar paper deficit at the Indoor Championships to upset the Methodist Monarchs, they were not feeling very comfortable. Sure that the meet could come down to a point or two, the Monarchs even entered four women in Friday evening's High Jump competition - none of whom having contested the event during the season - in hopes that they might pry a vital point or two away from the Captains.
The High Jump featured five Captains - one more than the standard four entry allotment as all five CNU jumpers ranked in the Conference's Top Ten heading in to the meet. That meant the Captains could score a lot of points to open the meet, but seeded 1-2-3, it also meant they had a lot to lose. The Methodist entries went out without clearing a height and CNU frosh Danielle Crowley (Rockville, MD) exited after clearing 1.41m/4-7.5 leaving six jumpers - and four Captains. Dira Hansen (Culpeper, VA) was edged on misses for third (1.51/4-11.5), but Noel Bartley (Waynesboro, VA) made up one of the lost points by moving up to a sixth place finish (1.46m/4-9.5). Enuma Ezenwa (Herndon, VA) made first-jump clearances of both 1.46m and 1.51m (4-11.5), but could not quite manage the next height. With no misses, though, she claimed the runner-up position.
That left defending Champion Jenna Elliott (Fredericksburg, VA) alone after clearing 1.51m on her first jump of the competition and 1.56m on her second. She made short work of the next two heights (1.61m/5-3.25 and 1.66m/5-5.25), too, the latter matching her outdoor PR. Now in the range of the Nationals cut-off (top 22 in Div. III go with no ties allowed), the height changes switched from 5cm to 1cm. Another first-jump clearance at 1.67m/5-5.75 and Elliott matched her indoor best. The next height, 1.68m/5-6 was expected to be a safe height for a Nationals invitation. After missing the cut by 1cm each of her first three collegiate seasons (twice indoors and once outdoors), the 5-4 sophomore wasted no time and cleared again on her first attempt - again improving her #2 Ranking on the CNU All-Time List. 1.69m proved to be more than she could handle on this day, but Elliott was now ranked #10 in Division III heading in to the final weeks of qualifying.
In the midst of the High Jump competition, Ezenwa, Crowley, and Bartley all had ten more barriers to clear in the 100m Hurdles trials. Bartley clipped a few hundredths of a second off her PR to 16.78 for 13th and Crowley just missed the finals with a 9th place 16.40. Ezenwa, who had a huge breakthrough two weeks before in the Heptathlon, dropped her PR another third of a second to 15.87 and earned another run in the finals on Saturday. Teammate Cheria Jackson (Woodbridge, VA) was a hair faster in qualifying (15.86) and Fredsal Walker (Herndon, VA) was just off her season best with a 15.27 run in to finals.
Jackson added a qualifying run in the flat 100m (12.93) then joined Elliott and Hansen on the Long Jump runway for another event with five Captains entered. Olivia Green (Fairfax, VA), like Jackson, had a good run in the 100m - a PR 13.00 for 10th, but could not match her 5m Long Jump form from the New Captain's Classic and finished 10th at 4.75m/15-7. Elliott landed a 4.90m/16-1 for 7th right behind Caitlin Miller's (Huntington, NY) second ever 5m performance (5.03m/16-6). Jackson stepped up with a 5.32m/17-5.5 effort for 3rd and Hansen just missed her PR by 1cm with a runner-up 5.34m/17-6.25. Methodist, however, had gained a few more points on the spread.
In the Hammer, senior Jill Raines (Jeffersonton, VA) landed her best throw just short of her PR at 37.09m/121-8 for 5th and rookie Valerie Washington (Charlottesville, VA) picked up a point in 6th at 32.68m/107-3. A big throw by Methodist's #1 to win added still more points to their cushion and they did so again in the only Friday final on the track. Defending Champion Kristy Zeiler was successful in adding 10 points to Methodist's total. Jade Zaharoff (Vienna, VA) ran her 10k debut in her final Championships meet and made it count - a 3rd place 39:50.24 for #4 in CNU History. Karen Bumiller (Burke, VA) was the next finisher at 40:17.65 and frosh Sarah Russell (Manassas, VA) logged a 43:07.64 for 7th place in her first attempt at the distance.
As well as the Captains competed Friday evening, the mountain they needed to climb for a title was significantly taller when they returned to work Saturday morning. The day started with the first break for CNU in the Discus. While the Captains were unable to score (though Raines did earn a PR 26.22m/86-0), Methodist's second-ranked #2 thrower failed to score and gave up 8 big points. In the Triple Jump, Dira Hansen added another gold to her large collection of medals with an 11.06m/36-3.5 jump. Caitlin Miller added a 3rd place 10.82m/35-6 and Cheria Jackson pitched in a point with a near-PR 10.44m/34-3. Olivia Green also just missed her PR - by 1cm - with a big season best in 9th place (9.99m/32-9.5). The Captains had now gained another three points on the spread.
The track events resumed with the Steeplechase with Jade Zaharoff and Sarah Russell back on the line. Zaharoff battled to a 3rd place 12:15.84 and Russell worked a PR 12:47.93 for 4th while improving her #6 Ranking in CNU History. In spite of jarring a bad ankle on the fifth water jump, newcomer Julie Machamer (Norfolk, VA) carried on to a 5th place 13:08.29. Emily Whitby (Alexandria, VA) fended off Methodist's entry with a 16 second PR (13:35.61 - CNU +#8 All-Time) to avoid a crucial 2 point turn-around.
After holding serve in the 4x100m Relay with a 2nd place finish, Jessica McClelland (Stafford, VA) ran 11 seconds faster than her previous PR in the 1500m to take 4th (4:56.56 - CNU #7 All-Time). Erin Rolaf (Woodbridge, VA) also PRed for 7th (5:01.95), just getting edged at the line.
Methodist slipped again in the throws only getting half of their 16 seeded points in the Shot Put while Valerie Washington gained two for the Captains with a 5th place 10.52m/34-6.25. More gains were made in the Pole Vault as Lauren Snell (Chesapeake, VA) earned a tie for 2nd (3.06m/10-0.5) and Kalee Hammerton (Royersford, PA) claimed an upset win with a PR 3.37m/11-0.75 clearance, improving her hold on the CNU All-Time #2 spot. Taryn Langley (Hopewell, VA) overcame her season struggles to clear 2.61m/8-6.75 and take good shots at her outdoor PR. Taylor McCord (Springfield, VA) added 10cm to her PR with a 2.31m/7-7 clearance. Methodist gave up a couple more points in the Javelin where the Captains did not score, but registered two PRs - one for Noel Bartley (25.07m/82-3) and another for Danielle Crowley (23.60m/77-5)
With the winds now blowing in their faces, the Captains hurdlers were not quite as quick as they were with the aiding winds in qualifying. Fredsal Walker claimed silver (15.66) and Enuma Ezenwa grabbed a 6th place point (16.42) to continue gaining on the Monarchs.
The 400m was the start of a gamble for CNU with senior Dira Hansen taking aim at Methodist's top two seeds. She got one of them placing third (58.67) behind Virginia Wesleyan's surprise rookie. Frosh Caitlyn Pabst (East Patchogue, NY) claimed a PR in 8th (59.65). In the next event, Cheria Jackson added a 6th place finish in the 100m finals (13.02) to continue chipping away at Methodist's advantage.
The Captain's big hit came in the 800m. Hansen ran to claim her title as the Conference's best and did so with a controlled, though challenged 2:20:38. The challenge in her heat was expected, but she only just bested the top time posted in the previous heat - a 5 second PR by frosh Brittney House (Midlothian, VA) that held up for 3rd - 6 unseeded points for the Captains - and ranked #9 in CNU History.
Next up was Part 3 of the Hansen gamble - the 400m Hurdles, where the defending All-American had the #2 time in the Conference. While her legs could not get the job done, her inspiration did as she helped encourage her teammates to three PRs and a net gain in points. Enuma Ezenwa improved her best by over a second to take 3rd (67.08), Cheria Jackson by a tenth for 5th (68.43), and Fredsal Walker by nearly three seconds for 6th (68.66) as Hansen finished 7th.
Walker quickly doubled back for a PR 25.83 in the 200m for 3rd and another big pick-up for the Captains. With two events left - the 5k and the 4x400m Relay - the Captains were just 11 points down to the Monarchs.
After already turning in eight miles of racing - the last two over Steeplechase barriers - #6 seed Jade Zaharoff had given all she could to the cause. With fresher legs, Erin Rolaf made her season 5k debut and added a second PR to her day finishing 3rd in 18:54.82. That ranks her #7 in CNU History. Karen Bumiller followed in 6th with an eight second PR (19:07.25) and the #8 spot on the CNU List.
The Captains were now within 6 points and had to face one of the top ranked 4x4's in Div. III in the Monarchs. Both squads did their jobs - Methodist ran 3:54.70 for the win and the Captains ran 4:02.93 for 2nd - and the final score was settled at 182-174. Penn State-Behrend was third in the team race with 69 points. All told, the Captains took home 43 All-Conference honors including 4 Individual Titles on the strength of 21 PRs and 36 Season Bests. Dira Hansen's 22 field event points earned her the Women's Outstanding Field Athlete award and she was the meet's top individual scorer with 38 points on the weekend - 10 more than any other competitor.