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Wetmore-Wednesday Top Races: Vaughn Wins 3 Big 12 Titles; Barringer Turns NCAA Disappointment into First US Championship

Jun 24, 2020
Wetmore Wednesday

BOULDER – The Colorado track and field and cross country program has a special history, one that began to hit full-stride under head coach Mark Wetmore.
CU track and field and cross country will take a look back at every year under Wetmore and recap the best races and teams of every calendar year.
Brent Vaughn was a decorated runner at the University of Colorado after a standout prep career at Smoky Hill in Aurora, Colo. While racing for the Buffs, he left a legacy of his own, which included an outstanding 2007 season where he won the indoor and outdoor 5k Big 12 Titles in addition to the individual Big 12 Cross Country Championship, a feat not to be taken lightly. On the women's side, Jenny Barringer (now Simpson) continued to add to her legacy in 2007. She was setting records in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, but one mishap in the NCAA final derailed an opportunity to defend her title from the year prior. Barringer rebounded to win her first U.S. Championship.
Winning one individual title conference is tough, but winning three in one calendar year? That's a huge accomplishment. That's exactly what Aurora, Colo., native Brent Vaughn did in 2007. Winning a Big 12 Conference title during the indoor, outdoor and cross country seasons.
Vaughn entered the 2007 season already having won three in the years prior. He had won the indoor 5k in 2005 and in 2006 took home the 3k crown. During the 2006 outdoor season, he won the 10k title. Looking back, Vaughn said he didn't feel any pressure or that there was a target on his back.
"When I step on the line I'm not thinking I won the last 5k or this or that, all I'm thinking is that I'm fit and I'm ready to race today," he said. "The important thing in running is to keep things really simple minded; don't over think things. You are just racing that race. It doesn't really matter before or after. It's just this race now."
The first title came during the indoor campaign on February 23, as Vaughn won the 5,000-meter run. He led the entire race, finishing in 13:48.74 and defeated Texas Tech's Kevin Chelimo (13:52.33). It was the second indoor 5k title for Vaughn and it marked the fourth straight year CU won that race at Big 12s.
"It feels great to win," Vaughn said following the win. "I feel blessed to be healthy this season because I have had injury problems and I feel blessed to be given the ability to come out here and run like this. I think the 5k is as deep as it has ever been. The Big 12 just keeps getting deeper and deeper each year so it is very tough and you have to feel a little lucky now to win the Big 12."
To add to his accomplishment, Vaughn broke the five-year-old meet record, 13:51.32, which was set by former Buff Jorge Torres.
"Jorge was someone that everyone at CU looked up to," Vaughn said recently about breaking the record. "That's what you hoped your career at CU was like. I'm sure in the moment I was pretty excited about it. I always had a ton of respect for Jorge and looked up to him."
During the outdoor campaign, he once again was the one to beat. The pace was not as quick as it could have been since the 1,500-meter finals had been run a few hours prior to the 5k final on May 13. Knowing there were some good kickers in the race, Vaughn and his teammate, Stephen Pifer, got the field moving and shared the lead in the final 2k. They trusted their kicks and it paid off. Vaughn once again proved to be the king of the 5k, finishing in 14:21.46. Pifer was the runner-up, crossing in 14:25.95.
"It was obviously special that Pifer got second and we went 1-2, but it's also just fun to beat Pifer," he reminisced. "It was still a great day for Pifer because he was also second in the 1,500 just a couple hours before the 5k."
While Vaughn's race might have seemed easy and he won bragging rights over his teammate, his coaches were cautious. The year prior at the Big 12 Championships in Waco, Texas, he had a problem with the heat while racing the 10k (which he won) and ended up in the hospital.
"A heat problem like that for a distance runner never goes completely away," Wetmore said following his outdoor win in 2007. "It's always waiting around to rear its head. We've had to be very careful with him in subsequent hot races and workouts. We were really nervous about this race (5k). Not much can go wrong in a 1,500, but in a 5,000, it's the end of a long weekend and we all had our fingers crossed. We had people stationed around the track to pull him off if he looked wobbly. But he never faltered. He just put the hammer down and said he never felt any problem at all. It was a great big day for him."
Training the entire year with just a few weeks off, distance runners switch their focus from the track to cross country in the fall. Vaughn was no stranger to winning conference titles on the track, but had yet to win an individual cross country conference title.
More importantly, the fifth-ranked Buffaloes had an impressive streak going. Entering the 2007 Big 12 Cross Country Championship on October 26, the men had won all 11 team titles since the conference expanded in 1996 from the Big Eight. The team title was the goal.
"Individually was much less important to me in cross country than the team title because we had quite a streak going," Vaughn said looking back at the meet. "We really did not want to lose that streak."
The meet was held in Lubbock, Texas, so while it wasn't the altitude of Boulder, it was at a higher elevation than most of the conference schools were used to. The No. 14 Texas Longhorn runners shot out of the gate, running a pace they would not be able to keep up. After about 2-kilometers, the Longhorns had slowed way down and it was time for the Buffs to get to work.
Vaughn said after the race he wasn't feeling that great in the beginning of the 8-kilometer run and just hung around for a while. That worked because by the time the field got around the midway point, he took the lead and was able to start slowing pushing the pace.
Vaughn's strategy worked and he crossed the finish in 21:22.30 to win his first conference cross country title, and more importantly, help CU score the fewest points for their 12th team title. Colorado defeated No. 18 Oklahoma State 34-48 that morning.
With the win, Vaughn snapped a three-year drought for the Buffs in the individual championship department. The last male Buffalo to win a title was Dathan Ritzenhein in 2003. After his victory, Wetmore said, "It was a wonderful run for Vaughn to win the title."  
Vaughn would go on to record his third cross country All-American honor that fall, finishing fifth overall. But don't worry, he would be back on the track in 2008.  
After surprising the collegiate world by winning the 2006 NCAA 3,000-Meter Steeplechase title as a freshman, Colorado's Jenny Barringer (now Simpson), was no longer an underdog during the 2007 outdoor season. She was the one to beat.
Through her first few steeplechase races, no one could do that. She won her first Big 12 individual championship in the steeplechase on May 13, 2007, in Lincoln, crossing in 10:19.34. Her time was 13 seconds faster than the runner-up, Oklahoma State's Eva Tomankova (10:32.93) and also qualified Barringer for regionals.
After the meet, Barringer was excited. "This is my first conference championship," she said. "I kind of did things backward. I won a national title last year. That was really exciting, but having run so many conference races and not having a title makes this really special."
Two weeks later at the NCAA Midwest Region Championship in Des Moines, Iowa, she successfully defended her title from the previous year, finishing with an impressive personal-best (and CU record) of 9:44.31. The time also broke the meet record of 10:12.26 that had been set by Natalie Florence, a former Buff, in 2003. Once again Barringer ran away with the title, finishing 24 seconds in front of Minnesota's Emily Brown (10:08.22).
Following the race, she was happy with the way things unfolded. "It is really exciting to defend my regional title here," she said. "I won my first track race here (NCAA Midwest Region Championships in 2006) and I'm back here again breaking the meet record and the track record. It's really exciting. I'm really proud of the way my coaches have prepared me to peak at this race every year."
At the time, her mark was probably the second or third best ever run in the NCAA. But there was something of more significance that could have been lost on the average track fan until Wetmore pointed it out following the race.
"Aside note that it is important is that is both the World Championships and Olympic 'A' standard, which is something at this time of year athletes are looking for all over the country," he explained. "It means that if she went to USAs this June and finished in the top three, she would have the necessary time to run at the World Championships. And, if she runs in the Olympic Trials a year from now, 13 months from now, and finishes in the top three, she has the time to go to the Olympic Games and I think there are only two women who have that now in the country."
Everything was leading up to NCAAs, which were once again in Sacramento, Calif. Barringer easily made it through the preliminary round, finishing first (10:02.17). Two days later on June 8, she was set to defend her national title, but her luck had run. During the second lap, someone had clipped her shoe. It was tied so tight that it didn't completely come off, but there was no doubt in her mind that she needed to get it back on to finish the race.
"The initial decision was not difficult," she recalls. "But then being on the side of the track trying to pull my shoe back on and watching the field run away, then real panic set in. I really panicked when I couldn't get my shoe back on and I struggled
for a while, which felt like a really long time. When I finally got my shoe back on my foot and started running, trying to be calm and not make matters worse, I got back on the rail and tried to incrementally get back with the group."
Barringer did the best she could, but it was easier said than done. There was so much ground to make up. Eventually, she did catch the pack and never made it up to the leaders, finishing seventh in 9:59.81.
There was disappointment, but those things happen. However Wetmore and Burroughs did not want her season to end on that note and there was another opportunity to compete, at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., just a couple of weeks later. So they entered her. 
"The most important part of that story is that even though NCAAs my sophomore year did not end the way I wanted, it presented this opportunity to me to race the US Championships two weeks later," she said.
That opportunity turned out to be more than she and her coaches could have dreamed. She won her prelim in 9:57.77 to take one of four automatic qualifying positions for the finals. Then two days later on June 23, she surprised the field by winning her first U.S. Championships in 9:34.64, just a hair in front of Anna Willard (9:34.72) who had won the NCAA title weeks before. Barringer's time was a meet and school record.
"And there were a couple of things that were really wonderful about going to USAs," she said. "The first thing is the toughest competition at NCAAs was there again. So I kind of got to rerun the race in a lot of ways. Second, I got to run at my first USA Championship, and then of course the cherry on top is that I won. And so I kind of got to redeem myself and redeem the traumatic experience I had had two weeks earlier. And that win got me my first place on a world championship team and I got to travel to the world championships that summer."
If she would have won her second title in the steeplechase that spring, things could have been different. Barringer may not have gone to USAs, which means she wouldn't have qualified for the world championships and never would have had the international experience she gained that summer.
Knowing how her 2007 season unfolded after the disappointment at NCAAs, it's hard to imagine Barringer not going on to compete at USAs and then the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan.
(Editor's Note: There will not be a Wetmore Wednesday next Wednesday, July 1. It is scheduled to return July 8.)