Brown (hammer), Zuercher (10K) finish 2nd for OC at NCCAA meet

OC senior Larry Brown watches as one of his hammer throws sails through the air on Thursday at the NCCAA Outdoor Championships. Brown finished second.
OC senior Larry Brown watches as one of his hammer throws sails through the air on Thursday at the NCCAA Outdoor Championships. Brown finished second.

By Murray Evans
ROME, Ga. (May 1, 2014) – Oklahoma Christian thrower Larry Brown had one primary goal during his senior season – make up the 20-foot gap between him and Josh Kuusisto of Greenville (Ill.) in the hammer and give himself a shot at a national title.

On Thursday at the National Christian College Athletic Association Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Brown achieved his goal, unleashing the best four throws of his career – and it still wasn’t quite enough to beat his rival, as he finished as the NCCAA runner-up to Kuusisto for the second straight year, albeit in a much closer competition.

While Brown’s performance might have been expected, perhaps Timothy Zuercher’s wasn’t. The OC sophomore from Sao Paulo, Brazil – ranked 19th entering the 10,000 meters – ran a tactically brilliant race and finished second with a career-best time, earning him his first NCCAA All-America honor.

Zuercher and Brown’s efforts gave the Eagles 16 team points, enough to give them the lead after the opening day of the three-day NCCAA meet at Barron Stadium. OC, aiming for a top-10, or perhaps even a top-five, finish, leads Houghton (N.Y.) by one point.

“Tim and Larry got us 16 team points and that’s tremendous,” OC head coach Randy Heath said. “That got us started well.”

Brown, from Shelbyville, Ind., was a distant second to Kuusisto at last year’s NCCAA meet in Joliet, Ill. The pair again entered this year’s national meet ranked one and two in the event, although Brown knew the circumstances would have to be right for him to have a chance. He would need to be at his absolute best and he’d need Kuusisto to have a bit of an off day.

Both happened. Brown kept improving throughout the six-throw competition and on his final career throw, unleashed a 57.35-meter heave that put him in first place and had some of the meet officials wondering if he’d done enough to beat Kuusisto. But to his credit, Kuusisto, with the meet’s final throw, passed Brown with a mark of 58.53 meters.

This second-place finish felt a lot better to Brown than the one in 2013.

“It came down to the last throw and I took the lead,” Brown said. “So I just made him go after it, which I’m glad he did. We talked a little bit and became a little bit of friends, so it’s good to see him pull it out.

“It was really good. I can’t ask for a better day. It feels good to go out with my four best throws and my very best throw on my last throw. It was amazing. It was definitely a gift from God.”

In the 10,000 – run under perfect conditions, with temperatures in the high 50s and no wind – Zuercher ran in the pack of the 10-man field for much of the first half of the race. As the field began getting spread out around the track, he hung with the lead pack. David Richards of Houghton (N.Y.) made a move in the final laps and pulled away, while Zuercher was third.

On the next-to-last lap, Zuercher slipped into second place and while he didn’t catch Richards, nobody caught Zuercher, either. After he finished in 32:41.84, members of OC’s cross country team – who cheered him on from all corners of the track – ran up to Zuercher to hug and congratulate him.

“That was a good feeling,” Zuercher said.

OC assistant coach Wade Miller, who works with the Eagles’ distance runners, said Zuercher ran an intelligent race that gave himself a chance to succeed.

“He executed really well,” Miller said. “We knew that there were some guys that were coming in who were going to be tired. He just stayed with that pack and methodically moved when he needed to move and sat when he needed to sit, then just blew it away in the last mile.”

OC’s other top performance Thursday came in the decathlon, in which sophomore Austin Wallace won three events – the 100 meters, 400 meters and shot put – to take the lead with 3,439 points. Halfway through the competition, Wallace leads Mason DePeal of Indiana Wesleyan by 41 points and the favorite, Justin Young of Azusa Pacific (Calif.), by 213 points.

OC’s sprinters didn’t fare quite as well. The 4x400-meter relay team of Austin Kruzich, Jamal George, Winston Ogletree and Joshua Jones tied for ninth in the preliminary round with a time of 3:32.57 and didn’t qualify for Saturday’s final.

In the 100 meters, George was 16th in the 27-man field in 11.27 seconds and Kruzich was 26th in 11.64 seconds. Ogletree bumped into a couple of hurdles in the 400-meter hurdles and ended up 10th in 56.24 seconds.