By Murray Evans
JOLIET, Ill. (May 4, 2013) – Ever the competitor, Oklahoma Christian’s Roberto Diaz wanted to pull off a challenging sweep of the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters on Saturday, the final day of the National Christian College Athletic Association Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
A break or two here or there and the sophomore from Austin, Texas, might have accomplished that. Diaz finished third in the 1,500, then turned around a little more than two hours later to take second while leading a dominant OC performance in the 5,000 at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
Those two All-America finishes proved vital for the Eagles, who rallied in the final few events to finish sixth in the team race with 45 points. Azusa Pacific (Calif.) ran away with the team title with 198 points, followed by McMurry (Texas), Cedarville (Ohio), Indiana Wesleyan, Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) and OC.
“All in all, pretty good,” OC head coach Randy Heath said. “We tried to do well in everything but there are always bumps in the road. We had our share of mishaps here and there and some injuries, but those things will happen. But I thought we had a really good meet to finish up on.”
Bryant Keirns got the Eagles off to a solid start Saturday, finishing fifth among 19 competitors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9:45.01, a season-best for the freshman.
A few minutes later, Diaz took the track for the 1,500. He stayed in the race’s pace-setting group throughout the race, but couldn’t hold off Jacob Phillips of Dallas Baptist (Texas), who won in 3:59.49. Azusa Pacific’s Aaron Potts was on Phillips’ heels, with Diaz right behind in 4:00.74. Another OC runner, Nick Stoots, finished 17th in the 23-man field in 4:13.28.
OC’s David Koistinen posted a respectable 12th-place finish among 28 runners in the 800, posting a time of 1:59.05. Freshman Ryan Lutterloh had to pull out of the race due to a foot injury.
Then came the 5,000, in which the Eagles had five runners in the 21-man field. Keirns ran in the race as a pace-setter for OC’s other four runners – Diaz, Geoffrey Njonjo, David McWilliams and Timothy Zuercher – and he performed those duties to perfection.
By the time Keirns dropped out, Diaz and Njonjo both were running in the top five. A pack of three runners, including Diaz, eventually broke away and Diaz led that group until the final two laps, when Andy Reidsma of Trinity Christian (Ill.) passed him.
Reidsma won in 14:48.92, with Diaz finishing in 14:54.55. Njonjo, running in his final race for OC, held on to take fifth in 15:10.79. McWilliams, another OC senior, reeled in two runners in the final two laps – making up 50 meters in the process – to finish eighth in 15:27.97 and snag the last scoring spot in the event. Zuercher was 10th in 15:41.73.
“Everybody put forth a lot of effort today and I’m really pleased with the way they performed,” OC assistant coach Wade Miller said. “I can’t say enough about the season that they had and the way they’ve worked day in and day out.”
Diaz obviously was frustrated, particularly after the 5,000, but chose to put a positive spin on his day.
“I was a little disappointed,” Diaz said. “I’m happy overall, because I ran the season well, gave it my all. That’s all I had. It was a good finish for the season. … You live and learn.”
Diaz was OC’s only All-America honoree Saturday. The Eagles had two other All-Americans on Friday, McWilliams (third in the 10,000 meters) and Larry Brown (second in the hammer).
OC’s success in the 5,000 vaulted the Eagles into sixth place in the team standings, and they weren’t done scoring yet. The 4x400-meter relay team of Thomas Ducat, Jamal George, Winston Ogletree and Trenton Parker finished sixth in 3:24.84 – its best time of the season – and senior Tracy Marshall took seventh in the long jump with a mark of 21 feet, 9½ inches (6.64 meters) despite managing only one legal jump.
The Eagles’ other competitors Saturday were Myles Mukes, who was 13th (among 21) in the long jump with a mark of 20 feet, 7¾ inches (6.29 meters) and Nate Donley in the discus, who finished 21st among 32 throwers with a mark of 126 feet, 6 inches (38.55 meters).