Misguided philanthropy nearly brought Sarah Porter’s collegiate running career to a devastating, screeching halt.
Six hours before the starting gun was to go off for the women’s 10,000 meters at the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships Thursday at Turlock, Calif., the top-seeded runner in the race was stuck in agonizing limbo.
Porter had donated prize money she won in a non-collegiate race to charity.
She made one crucial misstep in that process of seeking to retain her collegiate eligibility, however, by selecting which charity should receive the prize money rather than allowing race organizers to choose the recipient charity.
Even though she never received money — or even saw a check — that constitutes a violation of NCAA rules.
“The night before the race, I got a call from our compliance director (Butch Kamena) and he was like, ‘I’m sorry. We’ve done all we can, but we’re about 99 percent sure you’re not racing tomorrow. I thought I wasn’t racing until about 2:30 on race day. I got a call from him, and he said, ‘You’re in.’ I was just screaming and crying. It was amazing. It was the most ups and downs of any week I’ve ever had.”
Allowed to compete, the Hockinson High School graduate did not just run. She dominated, winning the first NCAA championship to conclude a decorated career.
“I told (Kamena), ‘I’m going to fly tonight,’ “ Porter said. “Once I got there, I just felt like I was meant to be there. It just felt like fate. The last mile and a half, I was in some pain. I felt like my pace went down a little bit, but then I remembered that I almost didn’t get to be here. ‘I need to make the most of this moment.’ That’s where my head was for that last mile and a half of that race.”
Porter led the entire race, 25 laps around the 400-meter track at Cal State Stanislaus, winning by more than 30 seconds, about half a lap.
Kristen McGlynn of Adams State (Colo.) was close behind for a while as Porter ran at record pace, but faded and eventually finished seventh.
Her time of 33 minutes, 17.39 seconds was the fourth-fastest in NCAA-II history and broke a 26-year-old record for the NCAA-II championships. She broke her own WWU and Great Northwest Athletic Conference records.
Two days later, she led for much of the 5,000-meter race before being passed with a lap remaining by Neely Spence of Shippensburg (Pa.), who Porter calls “the best Division II runner of all time” and was running her only race of the weekend.
“I figured that I would run that race like I had absolutely nothing to lose and I will just try as hard as I can,” Porter said after finishing in 16:23.08, six seconds behind Spence and well ahead of the rest of the field. “(Spence) actually didn’t pull away until the last 350 meters. Of all the races I’ve taken second in, I’m most proud of that one because I felt like I made her work for it. I know that I did.”
Porter completed her collegiate career as a 12-time All-American, with one NCAA title and four runner-up finishes. She holds WWU records for both indoor and outdoor track from 1,500 to 10,000 meters, excluding the steeplechase.
She is the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) West Region female athlete of the year for cross country and both indoor and outdoor track, and is reigning GNAC champion in cross country, the indoor 5,000 and outdoor 5,000 and 10,000 (there is no indoor 10,000). She has won or shared the past two WWU honors as Female Athlete of the Year for all sports.
And suddenly, it’s over.
“Isn’t that weird?” Porter said. “It just flies by. Looking back on all of this, I’m going to remember this past week, just because of everything that happened and the emotional roller-coaster. That was definitely my favorite weekend of college racing.”
Finishing her collegiate eligibility hardly means that Porter is done with racing.
She will make her professional road racing debut at the New York Road Runners’ prestigious “New York Mini” 10-kilometer race June 11 at Central Park, which will be her first visit to the city.
She will run the 10,000 at the 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on June 23 at Hayward Field in Eugene.
Piette helps WWU to NCAA-II rowing title
Western Washington maintained its stranglehold on the NCAA Division II women’s rowing national championship over the weekend, winning the crown for the seventh consecutive year on Lake Natoma at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in California.
WWU’s varsity eight shell bounced back from a runner-up finish a year ago to reclaim the national crown in the signature event.
Vikings junior Jean Piette, the No. 6 seat, said the crew believed that would happen.
“I guess I was pretty confident. We’ve been working really hard, so we felt confident,” the Columbia River High School graduate said. “It really was (motivating to have lost a year ago), especially since the whole team has been working really hard year-round in training and staying focused and motivated. That really played a key role in that race.”
The winning margin over defending champion Mercyhurst was about eight seconds, or two boat lengths.
Dixson, Concordia claim NAIA crown
Concordia University sophomore thrower Gabi Dixson had higher hopes for herself at last weekend’s NAIA outdoor track and field championships.
Dixson, who competed for Battle Ground High School, earned All-America status with top-six finishes by placing third in the shot put (46 feet, 8¾ inches) and sixth in the hammer (167-11), and missed All-America status by about a foot in the discus, placing eighth with a mark of 153-9.
She wanted to do better personally — but the Cavaliers captured the first team national championship in any sport in Concordia history.
“I wasn’t satisfied,” Dixson said. “I was happy that I was able to score points for the team, but I really want to do better next year. It wasn’t what I wanted to have happen at nationals, but it was still enough to help the team out. I’m really glad that my fellow teammates stepped up the way they did. I’m so proud to be part of Concordia’s team. The way we all bonded together and the way everyone stepped up was amazing, and I’m so proud to be part of it.”
Also for Concordia, Junia Limage placed third in the 800 meters, breaking her own school record with a time of 2 minutes, 9.75 seconds.
The Fort Vancouver High School graduate also helped the 1,600 relay team to place seventh in 3:47.94, after a school-record 3:46.16 in preliminaries.
Honors in brief
• Skyview High School graduate Abby Olbrich, who was the basketball team’s starting point guard and No. 1 singles and doubles players on the tennis team, was named the female athlete of the year in a vote of the Linfield College coaches.
The junior is a three-time All-Northwest Conference first-team selection in tennis and joined the basketball team this season, averaging 5.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and a team-high 2.9 assists. She played in all but two games, even with seasons overlapping.
• Washington State redshirt sophomore first baseman Taylor Ard has been named to the All-Pac-10 Conference first team.
The Prairie High School graduate leads the Pac-10 with 10 home runs and 55 RBI. He led the Cougars with a .337 batting average, 17 doubles, a .577 slugging percentage, and 40 runs. Ard was a Rawlings junior college All-American as a freshman at Mount Hood Community College in 2009.
• Boise State junior Alex Nelson qualified for the NCAA Division I outdoor track and field championships in the hammer throw with a mark of 209 feet, 3 inches at the West Preliminary Meet on Friday in Eugene. The Evergreen High School graduate will compete at the NCAA championships June 8-12 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
• Mount Hood Community College freshman shortstop Alex Foulon was named most valuable player of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community College baseball Southern Region All-Star team. The Heritage High School graduate was also named to the All-NWAACC first team and an NWACC Gold Glove winner.
Mount Hood freshman relief pitcher Christian Bannister (Columbia River) and sophomore outfielder Mychal Harrington (Hudson’s Bay) were All-Southern Region first-team picks, with Bannister also an All-NWAACC selection. Named to the All-Southern Region second team was Clackamas sophomore outfielder Derek Atkinson (Columbia River).
College Notebook will return in the fall.