WAC TRACK & FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii high jumper Emily Sheppard won the women's high jump at yesterday's Western Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships.
Sheppard keeps going
The Hawaii high jumper wins by saving her best leaps for when they matter most for UH
With her chances to qualify for the NCAA regionals dwindling, Emily Sheppard made sure her first season at Hawaii would extend beyond this week.
Hampered by illness and bad weather during the season, Sheppard entered the Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Cooke Field still needing to post a regional qualifying mark in the high jump.
Sheppard capitalized on her last chance by matching the regional standard and capturing UH's second gold medal of the meet along the way.
The freshman from Vancouver, British Columbia, clinched the title at 1.72 meters and went on to match the regional qualifying standard at 1.75. Teammate Mallory Gilbert took the bronze.
"She was coming into this with a little bit of pressure on her shoulders," UH coach Carmyn James said. "But there's nothing like rising to the occasion at the most important meet, and that's what we've been working on all season."
Sheppard's win was part of a promising start to the meet for the host Rainbow Wahine, who got a gold-medal performance from Annett Wichmann in the heptathlon on Thursday. The Wahine enter the final day sixth in the team standings with 30 points. Idaho leads the way with 47 points, followed by Louisiana Tech's 43.
Nevada (37) is fourth, followed by New Mexico State (32).
Boise State's men's team heads into the finals with a sizable lead over Utah State and Idaho with 70 points. The Aggies and Vandals both racked up 43 points yesterday.
The meet concludes today with field-event finals starting at noon and track finals starting at 3 p.m.
Sheppard had cleared 1.75 four times this season during UH's Sunset Meets. But those marks don't count toward regional qualifying since they didn't come against collegiate competition.
A virus that made its way though the UH squad kept her out of one mainland meet, and she didn't feel she'd been jumping at her best in the weeks leading up to the WAC championships.
"Nope, not at all," she said. "Little things were off each time, getting sick when we were traveling on the mainland and then bad weather, just a downward spiral."
Her uncertainty stretched all the way through the moments preceding yesterday's competition.
"My warm-ups weren't that great, so I had no idea how it was going to go," she said.
She cruised through the early rounds, and with the field down to three jumpers she cleared 1.72 meters on her first attempt. She clinched the title when Gilbert and Louisiana Tech's Joycalyn Loyd failed to clear the bar. Loyd was awarded the silver since she cleared 1.69 in one fewer attempt than Gilbert.
Sheppard knocked the bar off on her first attempt at 1.75, regrouped and cleared it on the second. She fell short on three attempts at 1.78, but it hardly mattered.
"I knew I just had to get on top of my take-off foot," she said. "I knew if I got on top of that I'd get over the bar, so I just had to focus on that and running my curve, just the technical things."
"To be able to rise to the occasion despite the circumstances goes to show the kind of competitor she is," James said.
UH's throwers didn't fare as well yesterday, getting no points out of the hammer and shot put. The Wahine will have a chance to add to their total today with Thalia Amanakis and Candace Rosenthal qualifying for the 400-meter hurdle finals.
Boise State's Keron Francis won the long jump and javelin and Ty Axtman won the 10,000-meters to help the Broncos build their cushion.
BSU swept the top four spots in the javelin, led by Francis' throw of 72.79 meters.
With the long jump and javelin held at the same time, Francis had to hustle between the long jump held at Cooke Field and the grass field across the street to win both events.
"He threw into a very stiff headwind with absolutely no warm-up," BSU coach Mike Maynard said. "He came from the long jump, ran over, put his boots on and threw. Then came back here and won the long jump. He's a phenomenal athlete."