Washington at NCAA Championships: A Full Recap

June 2, 2001

EUGENE, Ore.-- After the final runner crossed the finish line in the 4x400-meter relay to conclude the four-day NCAA Championship event, the Washington Huskies had made memories for a lifetime and brought honor to their home institution and team.

Seven Huskies made the trek to Eugene, Ore., for the cap of the outdoor track season and returned to Seattle with three All-America titles. As the best of the best collegians gathered to determine who would claim the coveted title of NCAA Champion, the UW athletes were intent on scoring points for the team as well as reaching individual goals, in some cases lofty goals.

Headlining the Washington representatives were three seniors, all making their final appearances in the Husky purple and white uniforms. Sprinter Ja'Warren Hooker along with distance standouts David Bazzi (Seattle, Wash./O'Dea) and Anna Aoki (Vancouver, Wash.) entered the meet with the purpose of ending their UW careers with a bang. Sophomore Gillian Palmer (Helensburgh, Scotland) also ended her Husky career Saturday evening as she will return to her native Scotland to continue her schooling and running career.

Bazzi's Ascent to All-America Status

For Bazzi, who was competing at his third NCAAs, two outdoor and one indoor, that mantra was definitely felt. He entered the meet with distinct goals in mind--scoring points for the team and earning that All-American title that had eluded him in his two previous NCAA tries.

' Scoring in both races was my goal coming in,' Bazzi said following the 5,000 meters Friday night. 'I thought I could finish higher, but getting two All-Americans in two days feels great. This was the best way for me to go out. I ran aggressive and hard and just went for it and left nothing out there on that track. I gave the best that I had in both races and I am really pleased with how I finished.'

Bazzi's attempt to pull off the 5,000/10,000-meter double didn't quite have the perfect start he would have liked, but sometimes things are just destined to be.

'In the 10K, I felt sick and was not able to run as I wanted to,' Bazzi explains. 'Sometimes the mind is willing but the body is not able. That is what happened then, but that let me have more to give tonight. I am just really pleased with my finishes in both races.

'I went out there to be aggressive and run hard,' Bazzi said after the 5K awards ceremony Friday night. 'I felt good out there, unlike Wednesday in the 10K. I enjoyed myself out there and it felt good to be in front and leading after two miles. I went out and made my move early and then tried to hang on for the rest of the race. I was just trying to finish those last 800 meters, but I feel phenomenal.'

Husky distance coach Greg Metcalf said Bazzi will be sorely missed and has come a long way in his years at UW.

'He battled in the 10K on Wednesday but he persevered,' Metcalf said of his graduating distance star. 'He ran well when he was a freshman, but then he struggled for a while. Just over the last year and a half he has really proven himself as a premier distance runner. He has worked really hard and did all of the little things right and here he is. When you are a runner out there, you not only have to be good but lucky. Bazzi was both today. He is the kind of guy that you definitely will miss in your program, but he will be back here in Eugene in two weeks for the USA Championships, so his running career is far from over.'

Hooker Finds Speed, Success Despite Injury

For the last month and half, Ja'Warren Hooker, the Washington record holder in the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash events and 1998 NCAA Indoor 55-meter champion, has struggled with a tightness in his quadracep area. Until the Pac-10 Championships, May 19-20 in Berkeley, Calif., he hadn't competed hard as not to aggravate the injury. Four races into the Pac-10 meet, after the preliminary and final heats of both the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay, Hooker withdrew from the competition due to the tightness to ensure he would be healthy for the NCAAs.

Hooker, who was making his fifth overall NCAA appearance, including three outdoor and two indoor, had only one thing in his mind entering the Championships, the 200 meters. Step one for Hooker was beating out at least 12 other runners to earn entry into the event finals by being among the top eight in Wednesday's semifinals. (The winner of each of the four heats along with next four fastest times advanced to the finals). He ran a strongly wind-aided 20.46 to finish second in his to Tennessee freshman Justin Gatlin, who clocked a blistering 19.86 in the heat.

Three days later, Hooker, an eight-time All-American, would face Gatlin, Tennessee junior Leonard Scott (20.10w), Texas Christian seniors Kim Collins (20.08W) and Darvis Patton (20.31w) along with Texas-El Paso senior Caimin Douglas (20.19w), Arizona State senior Marcus Brunson (20.38w) and South Carolina senior Josephus Howard (20.47w) in the event finals.

Hooker (Ellensburg, Wash.), Washington's lone sprint representative, made his final appearance in a Husky uniform at 6:35 p.m. Saturday finishing fifth in the 200-meter dash finals, clocking a heavily wind-aided 20.83 in the event to garner the ninth All-America title of his career.

Ranked 11th among 200-meter runners entering the competition, Hooker ran a strongly wind-aided 20.46 to finish second in his heat to Tennessee freshman Justin Gatlin, who clocked a blistering 19.86 in the heat. He entered the finals ranked seventh overall by time.

'The weather (rain, wind and cold) did not affect me at all,' Hooker, a member of the 4x400m relay pool at the 2000 Olympic Games, said after the race Saturday evening. 'I didn't get a great lane but you have to do with what you get. I tried to stick the tight corner and I was in pretty good shape then but that takes a lot of energy. I just didn't have any left the last half of the race.'

On his final race for Washington: 'I am just glad it's over,' Hooker continued. 'It has been a fun four years, but it puts a lot of strain on your body. It will be nice to be able to concentrate on running a few races every couple of weeks instead of several every week. I have not really thought about racing this summer yet, I am just trying to get ready to go after the quarter back here in Eugene in two weeks at the USA Nationals.'

The Agony of Aoki

For Aoki, the most experienced of the Huskies' NCAA contingent, the 80-plus degree heat Thursday evening presented an obstacle that overpowered all of the fight in the Washington distance leader's petite frame, but Aoki would not be kept down by anything, the weather or otherwise.

Aoki, who was making her fourth-straight NCAA outdoor appearance, was forced to drop out of the 10,000-meter run mid-race Thursday after being overcome by a heat related condition but bounced back to take a stab at the 5,000-meter event to end her UW career on a positive note.

'I didn't have a good finish in the 10,000--in fact, I didn't finish--so I decided to come back and see what I could do in the 5,000,' Aoki said Saturday morning after a day of recuperation. 'I am feeling a lot better today and am just going to go out there and give it my all.'

'I told (Anna) when we discussed the 5,000 that she was running that race for herself because she did not owe us anything,' distance coach Greg Metcalf said.

The 5,000 meters presented far different conditions for Aoki ,who was competing in her 10th overall NCAA event also including three indoor track and three cross country competitions, but to a distance runner of her caliber the results were still disappointing. (Aoki finished 18th in the event in a time of 16:28.63.) The weather, a chilly 60 degrees with a hefty breeze at the 7 o'clock hour of the race, but the will power was still enormously strong for this dedicated runner.

Aoki bounced back from Thursday's heat-related to run her second-best 5,000-meter time of the year. She entered the 5,000 as the 7th-ranked runner. Aoki , the Pac-10 champion at 10,000 meters in both 2001 and 1998, was competing in her 10th overall NCAA Championship event, including this--her fourth-straight outdoor competition as well as three each for indoor track and cross country. Her best finish at an NCAA event was ninth in the 10,000-meters at the 2000 NCAA Outdoor meet.

'I am disappointed with how I finished,' Aoki said. 'I thought I could come back and do well. It was a hard way to end things. You can't control certain factors of the race, so I have to try and keep a good perspective on things. I am happy overall with collegiate career. And due to the physical condition I was in I have to at least be happy I finished the race, but as a competitor you expect more of yourself.'

On her plans for the future: 'I am going to continue racing but I am going to take some time off,' Aoki said. 'I will probably start running again competitively at the end of the summer.'

On her last race as a Husky: 'It is starting to sink in now,' Aoki continued. 'It will be really tough when I go and talk to Coach (Metcalf) to realize that it (my Washington career) is over.'

'Anna was obviously incredibly disappointed (after not finishing the 10,000),' Metcalf said of his senior's effort. 'She had lofty goals for herself. She had felt great all week. She felt good when she was warming up and she felt good the first two miles of the race. It's just that your body has to protect itself. When your body temperature goes up, etc., your body shuts down and just won't let you continue. That's what happened to Anna. She is a tough girl and a phenomenal athlete. You don't run in 10 NCAA Championships if you aren't. It was just not the way it was meant to be today (Thursday).'

Aoki was not the only athlete in the 10,000 meters that fought a losing battle to the heat. One other competitor was also not able to complete the race and three others had to seek medical attention after crossing the finish line.

A Second Try

Sophomore Brad Walker (Spokane, Wash.) was out to duplicate the success he had at the 2001 NCAA Indoor Championships with his appearance in the pole vault at the Outdoor meet.

Walker, who garnered All-America acclaim with a seventh-place finish at the Indoor Championships, entered Wednesday's pole vault competition ranked 13th among the event contenders. He lived up to that ranking, but not his own expectations, finishing tied for 12th with a final clearance of 16-10 3/4. Walker's outdoor best was a height of 17-7 cleared at the Mt. SAC Relays April 22, while his career-best is the 17-11 3/4 that he reached at the NCAA Indoor meet.

And Now, Making Their NCAA Debuts...

Sophomores Gillian Palmer (Helensburgh, Scotland), Kate Bradshaw (Issaquah, Wash.) and Megan Spriestersbach (Tacoma, Wash.) all tackled NCAA track competition for the first time in their young Washington careers.

Scottish distance transport Gillian Palmer (Helensburgh, Scotland) tackled the 5,000-meter run event along with Aoki Saturday evening to close out the Huskies stand at the 2001 NCAAs. Palmer, who entered the race as the 17th-ranked runner, finished 22nd in the 5K in her last race in the United States as a collegian. Palmer, who claimed the Drake Relays 5,000-meter title and also helped lead the Husky cross country team to the NCAA Championships last fall is headed back to her native Scotland to continue her veterinary education at Edinburgh University and her running career. She was UW's top 1500-meter runner and ranked second among Huskies in the 3000 and 5000m. Palmer recorded her personal best mark, a 15:56 at the United Kingdom Olympic Trials in 2000. Her season-best time at Washington was an automatic qualifying 16:10.94 recorded here at Hayward Field just a few weeks ago, at the Oregon Twilight meet May 12.

'I was definitely excited to take part in this competition,' Palmer said following the race. 'I felt good the first half of the race and then I don't know what happened the second half. I will have to think about it some more and figure out what happened. The pace definitely increased and I think it shook me a bit but the conditions were great. I am disappointed in my results but I had a good season here. I also have a full season ahead of me in Scotland when I get back. Then I will take a break in September or so.'

On her time at Washington: 'I started off great during cross country season and then I got injured (a stress fracture in her foot),' Palmer said of her year. 'I feel I came back well during the track season this spring. I am disappointed in my race today but I feel I have made great progress this year. Coming to Washington was definitely a life experience for me.'

Bradshaw was able to finish the 10,000 meters 17th overall in a time of 37:21.85, despite the 80 degree plus heat Thursday evening.

'Kate is a tenacious, young girl,' Metcalf said of the sophomore who has led the Huskies in distance events this year beginning with the cross country season. 'She is a tough competitor and she will be back, and will possibly even double in the future. She will take a month off now to recharge her batteries. She has basically been running non-stop since July.'

Bradshaw was the Huskies' best 10K runner of the season entering the NCAAs, recording a 33:35.51 at the Stanford Invitational March 31. The time ranked second behind 1984 Olympian Regina Joyce on the Husky all-time best list in the 10,000m. Joyce won Washington's first national women's title, claiming the AIAW 3,000-meter championship in 1981. Bradshaw, who ranked fifth among NCAA 10K competitors entering the meet, won the Pac-10 title in the 10,000 meter at last year's conference meet.

Sophomore Megan Spriestersbach (Tacoma, Wash.) competed for the Huskies during day three of the meet, finishing 18th in the javelin competition Friday afternoon with a best throw of 137-5. Spriestersbach, who ranked 19th among javelin participants entering the NCAAs, was making her first appearance at the national track event. She earned her spot at the meet with a career-best throw of 156-4, which won her the javelin title at the Ohio Quad meet in Athens, Ohio, May 5. Spriestersbach has won seven javelin titles in 11 tries and has improved her career-best mark by nearly 10 feet this year. She also registered a third-place finish at the 2001 Pac-10 Championships.

The Washington men finished tied for 33rd with six points between Hooker's fifth place in the 200m and David Bazzi's pair of eighth-place finishes in the 5,000 and 10,000. Tennessee captured the men's title with 50 points followed by TCU with 49 and Baylor with 36.5. The Husky women did not score any points during the four-day meet. The Pac-10 swept the women's top three spots with USC claiming the team title with 64 points, the school's first ever women's NCAA title. UCLA was the runner-up with 55 followed by Arizona in third with 44 points.

Full results from the NCAA Championships are available on the NCAA web site at www.ncaachampionships.com and on the Oregon web site at www.goducks.com.

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