Sat. Pan Am Jrs: Fast start, then slim pickings

by Steve Underwood

Ross, Hearns, Engels shine early, but U.S. has other struggles

With Khallifa Ross and Scottie Hearns rolling to a 1-2 finish in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, followed by Craig Engels’ victory in the men’s 1,500 meters, Team USA seemed bound for another successful night – the second of three comprising the 2013 Pan American Junior Championships in Medellin, Columbia.

But the rest of Saturday was a struggle.  Until Matt McClintock’s 10,000 victory, there were just two silvers and a bronze over 10 evening events.  There was also Team USA morning field event success, however, as Alexis Faulknor dominated the women’s long jump field and Maggie Ewen pulled out a silver in the discus.

It all added up to a 4-gold, 9-total-medal day that had its exciting moments of triumph, but was ultimately a little less than hoped for.  The competition, though, certainly deserves some of the credit: While powerhouse Jamaica brought a sub-par team, other nations like Brazil, Cuba, and Canada have stepped up big and – best of all for the host country’s fans – Columbia delivered three golds Saturday night.

Hurdle sweep and Wolfpack glory

The beginning of the evening’s action bore a strong resemblance to the way Friday started out: Great performances by hurdlers and N.C. State athletes.  Friday, they were one and the same with the Wolfpack’s Alexis Perry taking the 100H.  Saturday, it was the hurdlers first – with the aforementioned Rosser and Hearns running 50.75 and 50.96 over a lap’s worth of barriers for gold and silver – then the gold performance by an N.C. Stater: Engels kicking to a 3:53.12 1,500 victory.

Both Rosser and Hearns have made big strides during their first years out of high school.  At Summit (Fontana, CA) HS, Rosser was “just” a 39.34 300 hurdler with additional PRs of 49.16 400 and 46-1.75 triple jump.  He improved dramatically at Chaffey College (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) this year, getting into the mid-51s before USA Juniors, and now into the 50s.  Hearns had been a 37.89 300H performer at Meridian (MS) HS in 2012, but with Mississippi State took 2nd in the SEC 400H before winning in Des Moines in 50.56.

“In high school, I never got to run 400 hurdles, so it was a real hard transition for me,” said Hearns.  “Now I feel like I got it.”

“I ran, like, 39!” said Rosser.  “With the 400 hurdles, it’s more of a challenge, and I like to take on challenges.  I didn’t expect to be doing as well as I am now, but if you put the work in and have the right mindset, anything is possible.”

Big, tall Brazilian Jucian Rafael Pereira, who looks more built for the discus or hammer, hammered through most of the race, ahead through the curve and still had a tiny margin on the Americans until after the final run-in, when Rosser and Hearns stormed in.

“He just made me want to chase him down,” said Rosser.  “I just kept thinking ‘arms’ and my form and the rest will take care of itself.

“We made a strong move going into the sixth hurdle, because that’s basically where the race starts for us,” said Hearns.  “Then the only thing I was thinking about was (finishing) one and two, one and two.”

Engels, on the other hand, was certainly a known national-class quantity from high school, running a 4:03.96 mile for Ronald Reagan (Pfafftown, N.C.) HS, as well as becoming only the 4th prep in history to better 1:50 for 800 and 9:00 for 2M (8:55.51 3200).  He redshirted as a college frosh and looked as fresh as someone who has raced pretty lightly would hope to.  The field took off at just 65 pace for the first 400, picked up a little, then Engels put it away with his 57 last lap.

Engels said he’s been training for XC already, and had only done two recent track workouts in preparation.  But he noted that when he ran his fastest 1,500 of 2013 early in the year, he was also coming off no track workouts – so he still expected to race the distance well. 

“I saw that the record was 3:45, and it’s at altitude, so it was going to be hard.  But I was like, ‘I’ll try!” he said.  But my coaches from home emailed me right after I said that, and said, ‘Don’t lead the race!’”

In the end, though, the time didn’t matter and victory provided plenty of joy.  “It’s probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me.”

And, oh yes, he was pleased lay down a gold as Team USA’s captain (along with Kendell Williams) and to deliver another Wolfpack victory.  “It’s so cool!  I’m so happy for Alexis, she’s amazing! She’s gotten so good this year.”

More gold: Faulknor and McClintock

Team USA’s other golds were captured early in the day, as Faulknor dominated the long jump with 20-5.75(-0.8w) and then at the very end – when McClintock kicked in the last 600 for a 31:12.39 in the 10,000. 

Faulknor, a Central Florida frosh out of the powerful Serra Gardena program in California, got the job done from start to finish, never leaving any doubt. 

“Coach Brown told me to lead the series from the beginning, so that’s what I did (20-5.25 on first attempt).  Then I came in on my last jump and got even further (20-5.75), so that was nice.”  Faulknor had the four longest jumps of the competition, all over 20 feet, while no one else hit beyond the 19s.

Like many of her teammates, the consistent leaper felt the effects of trying to stay in top form into late August.  “I’m glad it’s almost over,” she said.  “I’ve got one more event tomorrow (4x100 leg) and then that’s it.  I’ve never competed this long, but I’m glad I came out with a win.”

Like Faulknor, McClintock was able to execute extremely well.  Unlike Faulknor, his big move came at the end.

“It went exactly how I hoped it would,” said the Purdue frosh.  “I wasn’t really sure what would happen, but Coach Mitchell and Coach Hartman and myself strategized before that with this altitude ...  it was going to be worthwhile to just sit back in the back of the lead pack ... and let the guys up front fight each other and surge by each other ... and give myself the opportunity to be able to kick like that and get away with a championship.”

McClintock said his kick was actually launched closer to the finish than he’d planned, as he and teammate Brandon Shemonia were going to make a move at 1000 to go and switch every 200.  “He fell back, though, so I kind of had to think on my feet,” said the winner.  “Coming down to 800 to go, I stuck six fingers in the air to Coach Mitchell about making a move with 600 to go and we both had the same idea to make an attempt to win the race.”

The best (and worst) of the rest

Team USA wasn’t as fortunate elsewhere – though there were some good performances and some medals of other colors earned.

In the men’s 110H, Beaumont Ozen (TX) senior Tony Brown won his semi in a very solid 13.54, then was even better in the final – a 13.47 that his third only to his 13.38 he ran at Texas Relays way back in March, and his 13.40 at 4A state.  Unfortunately, he was 2nd to the Columbian national record 13.42 achieved by Juan Carlos Moreno.  More unfortunately, he stomped off the track within a few strides of finishing – failing to acknowledge his competitors and refusing, at first, to do his interviews.

More gracious in defeat was St. Francis (MN) senior Maggie Ewen, who struggled for most of the discus competition in 6th before unleashing a 165-7 that put her into the lead in the final round.  But she had to settle for silver, too, after Brazil’s Izabela da Silva threw an eye-popping 177-8 on the final throw of the event.

Meanwhile, Baylor frosh Olicia Williams (St. Anthony’s, South Huntington, NY) saw bronze turn into silver in the women’s 800 after the apparent race winner got DQ’d.  After a slow 65 first lap, the contenders turned on the jets during the second lap.  As Shahily Diaga Mesa of Cuba was trying to hold off Jenna Westaway of Canada, she drove her all the way into lane four and lost her gold for doing so.  Williams had outkicked the rest of the field for an apparent bronze in 2:08.85, but moved up a spot after the verdict was reached.

Bronze, however, was the best any of Team USA’s 200 entrants were able to come up with.  However, the bronze performance was actually a positive as Lincoln (Gahanna, OH) senior Riak Reese surprised by blasted a US#6 20.82 for third in his semi, then got the same spot in the final with 21.01.  Leading U.S. entrant Just’N Thymes (Riverside CC/Hamilton, Chandler, AZ), however, was eliminated in the semi.  On the women’s side, Regis Jesuit (Aurora, CO) senior Ana Holland had a somewhat promising 23.61 for 2nd in her semi and overall to the final, but the same mark earned her only a 4th in the medal race.  Her teammate, Illinois frosh Morolake Akinosun (Waubonsie Valley, Aurora, IL), trailed her in 5th at 23.76.

Also in 4th and 5th were Team USA’s women’s high jumpers, locked in a battle where no one in the field could clear even 5-10.5 (even with a lot of 6-foot talent), and wound up out of the medals on misses.  West Albany (OR) sr Rachel Proteau and South Pasadena (Pasadena CA) senior Claire Kieffer-Wright each clearned 5-9.25.  Another 4th came in the women’s triple jump, where Baylor frosh Brianna Richardson (Rockwall, TX) spanned 43-3.25, and yet another came in the women’s 5,000, where the lead by Johns Hopkins frosh Hannah Oneda (Winters Mill, Westminster, MD) evaporated in a last lap sprint as she ran 18:24.04.

Never in contention were the Americans in the men’s steeplechase, who wound up 6th and 10th, and in the men’s javelin – 10th and 12th.  Eight U.S. athletes would finish between 6th and 12th on the day.

Finally, the decathlon was toughest of all to take, as the typical second-day surge by Belton (TX) senior Wolf Mahler was thwarted by a hamstring injury and his teammate Georgia frosh Devon Williams (Kell, Marietta, GA) was forced to retire as well due to an ankle injury.

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