CU’s Benner Wins 5k Crown, Women Post Highest Pac-12 Finish

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Behind several strong performances on Sunday, the University of Colorado women’s track and field team placed sixth at the 2016 Pac-12 Track & Field Championships, posting the best team finish since joining the league.

Colorado put together a total of 66 points to earn the finish, its best since 2000 when the Buffs were sixth at the Big 12 Conference meet.

“We were really happy with a sixth place finish,” head coach Mark Wetmore said. “We saw that level of finish was attainable, but we were going to need some big points in the 5,000, so we called Erin Clark out of the medical tent with a sore leg to take a shot at it for us. We are really happy with the team finish, but it took some hard duty from some people.”

The Buffs were led on the second day of the meet by sophomore Kaitlyn Benner, who won the first Pac-12 Conference title of her career. The Superior, Colo., native won the 5,000-meter run in a Husky Track record of 16:12.82. The 5k win is the second for the Buffs since joining the Pac-12. Jessica Tebo also took home the honor for CU in 2012.

“We’re really happy with the win for Kaitlyn,” Wetmore said. “She is having a very good year for us.”

For the second straight year, Clark earned a runner-up finish in the 5k after winning the steeplechase the day before to record 18 points for the CU women’s team. Clark finished a very close second, just .64 seconds behind Benner at 16:13.46, providing the Buffs a very effective 1-2 punch.

“Kaitlyn and Erin were both very smart and patient and let the race unfold,” Wetmore said. “They were third and fourth, I think, with a lap to go, but they dug down and it was a great win for Kaitlyn and a great double for Erin.”

The men recorded 16 points in their 5,000, finishing 2-4-6. Senior Morgan Pearson (13:36.79) led the trio, earning a runner-up finish as Washington’s Colby Gilbert (13:35.20) just edged him at the finish. Another senior, Pierce Murphy, ran a solid race and placed fourth overall after clocking in at 13:42.43. Freshman Joe Klecker recorded his first points as a Buff with a sixth place performance, finishing his 5k debut in 13:44.23.

“We’re very happy with the men’s 5,000,” Wetmore said. “Yes, we could be happier if a couple of places had been switched around, but Morgan did not yet have a 5,000-meter qualifying mark this year. We kind of rolled the dice on the conditions here in Seattle being good enough for that kind of attempt. Pierce and he exchanged laps out in front the whole way to make sure it was fast enough. Pierce probably sacrificed a spot or two in the overall finish position to help his teammate, but those are really fast times for a conference championship. If you were to look around the country, you wouldn’t see too many 13:30s at a conference meet. It was an excellent run for Morgan and for Pierce.

“It was also a special run for Joe,” Wetmore continued. “That is one of our fastest freshman times ever. He raced yesterday [in the 1,500] and had never tried this distance before. We needed big points from the 5k and they really pulled through.”

The Buffs had a very successful showing across the board on Sunday. Junior Jaron Thomas earned 11 points for Colorado in the 110 and 400-meter hurdles. He started the day off in the 110-hurdles, clocking a third place finish with a time of 14.15. Thomas returned to the track less than 90 minutes later, and came away with a fourth place finish in the 400-hurdles, crossing the finish in 52.04.

“Jaron Thomas was the high points scorer on the men’s side, running five races in two days,” Wetmore said. “We owe him a hand shake and recognition for doing such a good job for the team.”

Thomas wasn’t the only Buff to finish well in the 110-hurdles as freshman Isaiah Thomas placed seventh overall with a time of 14.47, just barely finishing behind Stanford’s Harrison Williams (14.46). It was a great effort for the Buff who last week placed seventh overall in the decathlon with 6,952 points.

Another freshman, Duane McClurkin Jr., picked up an additional point for the Buffs in the open 400 – finishing in 48.57 for eighth place. McClurkin Jr. had a busy day as he was also competing in the high jump competition at the same time. He didn’t score for the Buffs in the high jump, but he did finish with a respectable mark of 6-6 (13th overall).

Despite not having any individual sprinters competing in the finals, Colorado started the day strong with the women’s 4×100-meter relay team placing third overall. The quartet of Ana Holland, Tashay Brown, Alex Peters and Eileen Gehring put together a time of 45.22, which is the third best time in school history.

“The women’s 4×100 was not on the form chart coming into this meet,” Wetmore said. “They made no mistakes and maybe took advantage of difficult weather where they stayed more clam than other people. They had a great race.”

The women’s 4×400 team finished the day for CU with a sixth place finish. Gehring and Peters returned to the track and teamed up with Rajon O’Quinn andGabby Scott to finish in 3:41.47.

Colorado’s middle distance events also excelled and were led by junior Nick Harris’ outstanding 800. The Niwot, Colo. native, ran a gutsy race and ended up third overall. His time of 1:47.89 ties the second fastest mark in CU history and puts him second on the all-time list behind Mike Macinko, who ran 1:47.52 on April 23, 1989.

“I’m very pleased with Nick’s time,” Wetmore said. “He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever coached at CU. He was very businesslike in the qualifying round and in the final he was really smart and closed hard. He’s only been with us for six months – we’re really excited about him.”

Another local Buffalo, freshman Elissa Mann of Louisville, Colo., also did great in the 800. She placed fifth overall and ran a personal best of 2:05.28.

The Buffs also earned a pair of eighth place finishes in the 1,500, adding an additional point for each team. Freshman Dani Jones finished the women’s race in 4:20.34, while Zach Perrin hung on in the men’s race to score a point for the team, finishing in 3:44.83.

In the field events, senior Brady Rutt placed fifth amongst 27 competitors in the discus, throwing a mark of 173-9. This was the second event of the meet that Rutt scored for CU as he earned a sixth place finish in the hammer throw on Saturday (190-11). In total, he earned seven points for the men’s team score.

“Brady scored in a couple of events for us,” Wetmore said. “Yesterday was a rainy, wet day, so he didn’t have the best day in the hammer, but still got on the board for us, and came back today an excellent performance in the discus. He was one of our workhorses this weekend.”

Overall, the men’s team finished seventh with 63 points. Oregon won both the men’s (155.5) and women’s (185) team titles.

The postseason will continue for the Buffs with the NCAA West Preliminary Championships, May 26-28, in Lawrence, Kan.

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