The combined Western Athletic Conference/High Country Athletic Conference track and field championships (can you say all that?) concluded Saturday the same way it always does: with a giant blue-and-white Cougar celebration.
BYU - men and women both - gathered en masse on the track to accept the team championship trophies while the crowd looked on with mild enthusiasm.Is this a familiar scene or what?
For the record, BYU has won five consecutive WAC championships and seven consecutive HCAC titles.
Can you say no mas? How about no contest? The HCAC competition wasn't half finished Saturday when BYU head coach Craig Poole pronounced, "It's in the bag." He also added, "But next year it will be closer."
Uh-huh, we've heard that before. The Cougars, led by Maxine Scringer, Cathy James, Georgia Palmer, etc., etc., won by a whopping 107.5 points. Score it BYU 203, New Mexico 95.5, Utah State 92.5 (Utah was seventh, with 13 points). All of which was enough to earn Poole the HCAC Coach of the Year award.
The WAC race was another story. "I've never been so nervous in my life," said BYU's first-year head coach, Willard Hirschi, who was named WAC Coach of the Year. The Cougars didn't wrap up the championship until the final three events of the day, and Hirschi was tabulating points every step of the way.
In the end, BYU had 174 points, UTEP 154, New Mexico 129, San Diego State 102, Wyoming 29, Utah 26, Colorado State 25 and Air Force 14.
"We just couldn't catch BYU," said UTEP coach Bob Kitchens. "Every time they fell in one area, someone else came through."
BYU's latest WAC title was probably its most most difficult. Like most track coaches, Hirschi is wary of over-racing his athletes, but this time he needed the points. Several BYU athletes performed gutty doubles and triples, which was no small feat given the 5,000-foot altitude and the stifling 90-degree heat.
The most improbable performance was delivered by BYU's Russ Muir, a slender junior from Sandy who was asked to run both the 1,500- and 800-meter runs on the same hot afternoon. "Even when I made out the assignment, I thought, `No way can he do this double,"' Hirschi admitted.
Muir, who has run the mile only eight times in his life (twice this year), finished second in the 1,500 to UTEP's Tim Kamili, 3:48.25 to 3:49.80. An hour later, dizzy and exhausted, he returned for the 800 and, at the sound of the gun, promptly dropped to the back of the pack - and then some. He trailed by 30 meters after one lap.
"I felt terrible," said Muir. "I was thinking maybe I could get in the top six."
But with 300 to go, Muir, warming to the race, began reeling in the field. With 150 to go, he still trailed SDSU's Matt Large by a full 10 meters, but 70 meters from the tape Muir took the lead and charged home for the win, with a time of 1:50.52.
"That's the greatest double I've ever seen," Kitchens told Muir.
There were other tireless, clutch performances. A day after running both the steeplechase (third) and 10,000 (sixth), BYU's Paul Rosser finished second in the 5,000 Saturday. Teammate Brent Patera won the discus with a throw of 184-8 - 9 feet beyond his personal record.
But not everything went BYU's way. Lane White, a consistent 17-foot vaulter, no-heighted in the pole vault. And then there was the great African sprint showdown between UTEP freshman Olapade Adeniken (homeland: Nigeria) and BYU sophomore Frank Fredericks (Namibia). Adeniken narrowly edged the previously unbeaten Fredericks in the 100, 10.05 to 10.07 (wind-aided), but Fredericks regrouped.
"I will win the 200," he said. "That's my race."
And it was. Adeniken pulled even with Fredericks at the top of the straightaway and they ran together for 50 meters before Fredericks pulled away for the win. Times: wind-aided 20.09 and 20.22.
On the distaff side, BYU performed according to form. Palmer defended her 800-meter title, winning in 2:11.13, and Scringer defended her 400-meter title, with a 55.23. James, a freshman from Orem, led a BYU sweep in the discus with a mark of 166-1.
If any team threatens BYU in the future, perhaps it will be Utah State, which made big gains this year, thanks to its Nigerian connection - Lola Ogunde, Patricia Otiede and Ime Akpan - plus Janelle Nielsen.
Ogunde, who was looking to win the 100/200 double for the third consecutive year, won the 100 with an NCAA qualifying mark of 11.49. She also anchored USU's winning 4x100 and 4x400 relays (times: 45.88, 3:43.78).
But in the 200 Ogunde was edged by CSU's Andrea Bush, in a finish so close that they were given identical times of 23.84. Ogunde, a senior, ended her career, but perhaps Akpan will replace her. Akpan, a freshman, won the 100 hurdles in a sizzling time of 13.82, and took fifth in the 100 and third in the 200.
Speaking of dynasties, another one came to a close Saturday. As has become his habit, Utah's Eric Chesley had a quiet, unspectacular season going until the WAC meet. A gangly 6-6 senior, Chesley went out hard and then held off challenges from long-time rival Shaun McAlmont of BYU and UTEP freshman Harvey Noyola down the stretch to win in a personal-record time of 50.42.