Spectacular Series Leads Yurkovich to Title

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Rachel Yurkovich unleashed a spectacular series of throws in windy conditions, highlighted by a mark of 187-5, to win the 2008 women's crown Saturday at the NCAA Track & Field Championships. Yurkovich's victory highlighted a day of four top-four finishes for Oregon on the final day of competition at Drake Stadium.

All six of Yurkovich's throws sailed past 172 feet, as she battled two competitors to become Oregon's fifth collegiate javelin national champion (fourth NCAA). The junior became Oregon's first NCAA Champion in the event since Ashley Selman in 1993.

"I was wanting to get a little better with each throw," said Yurkovich, who won her third career All-America award. "I just want to say, ‘finally!' There are a lot of people who have been waiting just as long as I have to be No. 1 in the nation.

It feels great, but I'm happy it's over." Throwing first, Yurkovich took the lead with an effort of 172-feet, 4-inches. The Newberg, Ore., native bettered that on her second attempt, going 176-11. Then Kayla Wilkinson of Nebraska surpassed that in the second round by throwing 179-2, only to have Yurkovich move back into the lead with a throw on 179-6 in round three.

Yurkovich's winning throw came in round five. New Mexico's Katie Coronado was the closest to Yurkovich, settling for second with a throw of 179-6 on her final attempt.

"I was really nervous going in, but once I got on the field, my goal was to just keep improving with each throw and it turned out great in the end," said Yurkovich.

Her win, along with fourth-place finishes from Zoe Buckman and Brianne Theisen, gave Oregon 27 team points, as the Duck women placed eighth overall. It was the women's team's best finish since placing fourth in 1993, and the 27 points was the most scored by the women since totalling 35 in 1993.

Louisiana State won the women's title with 67 points, followed by Pac-10 champion Arizona State with 63, Texas A&M with 48, Penn State with 39, Texas Tech with 32, Stanford with 31, Michigan with 29, then the Ducks, followed by Florida with 26 and Texas-El Paso with 25 to round out the top 10.

The men, thanks to Andrew Wheating's second-place finish in the 800 meters, finished tied for 11th with Northern Iowa at 22 points. Florida State won it's third consecutive crown with 52 points, with Louisiana State and Auburn tied for second with 44 points.

"All the work we put in this year was about laying the foundation for the future," said Oregon director of track and field Vin Lananna, whose teams will return all but one point scorer from the 2008 Championships.

Wheating, the sophomore who had won 11 consecutive races prior to Saturday, was involved in the best race of the day, a riveting final in the men's 800 meters that was decided by .01 of a second.

The Norwich, Vt., native ran near the back of the pack for the first lap, and then moved up slowly with 300 meters to go. He kicked with a little under 50 meters remaining, and in swinging wide to clear USC's Duane Solomon, fell just .01 short of Texas' Jacob Hernandez in a photo finish.

"I might have broke a little too late," said Wheating, who became the first Duck All-American in the 800 meters in 24 years. "I love the competition. Hearing the crowd roar and not knowing who won; Jacob, he's a great runner. If I had to lose, I'm glad it was to him because he's such a good athlete."

Hernandez finished in 1:45.31, with Wheating second in a personal-best 1:45.32. That time, run in a fairly strong wind, is third best on the Oregon list behind Joaquim Cruz' school record of 1:41.77 in 1984 and Wade Bell's 1967 time of 1:45.17. His second-place finish was the best for an Oregon runner at the NCAA meet since Cruz won the event in 1984.

"It was an exciting race," said Lananna. "He has now become a legit contender to make the U.S. Olympic team."

In the final of the women's 800, Buckman ran a hard race and just missed a top three finish by .02 of a second. Geena Gail of Michigan won the race in 2:03.91 with Latavia Thomas of Louisiana State second in 2:04.38. Becky Horn of Western Michigan clipped Buckman for third, 2:04.67 to 2:04.69.

The sophomore from Canberra, Australia, earned the third-straight All-America award for Oregon in the women's 800 meters, following Rebekah Noble in 2006 and 2007.

Freshman Brianne Theisen used a strong throw in the javelin to finish fourth in the heptathlon with 5,710 points. She edged Penn State's Gayle Hunter by one point to earn five team points for the Ducks. Arizona State's Jacquelyn Johnson won her fourth NCAA heptathlon crown with 6,053 points. Minnesota's Liz Roehrig was second with 5,811 points, while Bettie Wade of Michigan was third with 5,738 points.

Theisen opened the second day of the heptathlon with a personal best in the long jump, 19-6.75. That was the ninth-best jump of the competition. She then made her move in the javelin with a throw of 144-1, just seven inches off her personal best and fifth-longest on the day, to earn 742 points and climb from eighth in the standings to fourth. The Humboldt, Sask., native then ran 2:22.73 in the 800 to hold off Penn State's Gayle Hunter by a point.

"Jav pulls me through every heptathlon," said Theisen, who became the first Duck to All-America in the heptathlon since Jennifer Thomas in 1998. "When I saw that one point (for fourth place), I thought thank goodness. My javelin is really strong and on the second day, anything can happen."

Kalindra McFadden, who had a 100-point first-day P.R. on Friday, started the last round of competition with a 17-8 effort in the long jump and followed that with a throw of 115-2 in the javelin (15th). She ran 2:16.68 in the 800, second overall, to finish the competition in 17th place with 5,369 points.

Surging for a strong finish in the final of the men's 1,500 meters, sophomore A.J. Acosta was tripped on the final curve and placed ninth in a time of 3:43.26.

The four All-America awards earned by Oregon on Saturday gave the Ducks 10 for the 2008 Championships. In addition to the four on the final day, Oregon counted All-America status for NCAA champion Ashton Eaton in the decathlon, Nicole Blood in the women's 5,000, Alex Wolff and Mike Simmons in the men's javelin, Colin Veldman in the men's hammer and Melissa Gergel in the women's pole vault.

The 10 All-America honors collected by the Ducks were the most produced at the outdoor championships since the 1991 teams garnered 11 (eight men, three women). All but one of Oregon's 2008 All-America awards -- Veldman in the men's hammer -- was won by an underclassman.

"We're a young team," said Oregon associate director of track and field Dan Steele. "We've come a long way and really, we're ahead of pace, which is nice.

"I'm thrilled to come away with the success we've had at this meet."

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