Raiders Experience Prosperity at Track Nationals
Logan Stanley, Sportswriter
GULF SHORES, ALA.–It was a bountiful weekend for the Southern Oregon Track & Field program at the NAIA Outdoor Nationals, which saw nine Raiders take home All-Americans across six events and two Raiders being crowned national champions.
The success began with sophomore Jessa Perkinson’s victory in the 10000m race on Thursday, which she won handedly in 36:10 (2nd place was 13 seconds behind). The title is the first one for a distance event in SOU history on the women’s side and the first time a Raider has won the 10000m — men’s or women’s.
Building on Perkinson’s success the following day was freshman Joe Dotson in the decathlon, who was competing at the national level for the first time. That unknown, competing with the nation’s best, didn’t phase Dotson as he improved on his PR to place 5th (6484 points) and achieve All-American status. It was the first time Southern Oregon has had a freshman All-American on the men’s side since 2005, and is only the fourth Raider freshman in the past decade to finish in the top 5 for the decathlon at Nationals. What’s worth noting about Dotson’s finish: entering the final day of the decathlon, he sat in 10th place. That veteran ability to move up on five spots on the last day of competition will be something to watch for years to come, as Dotson has only competed in three decathlons in his track career.
The final day of competition at the NAIA Outdoor Nationals was a near perfect one in the ‘All-American Department.’ Coming into the day, Southern Oregon had athletes in five events: at the end of the day, there were All-American efforts produced in four.
School history was made in the men’s 4x100m relay, as the squad (consisting of Julius Shellmire, Hayden Saparto, Zac Hannan and Cameron Bremner) placed 4th with a time of 41.35 — it marks the highest finish for a SOU sprint relay team at the National meet. This comes after they already broke the school record at the CCC championships. This may be just the beginning of something great, as the relay team consists entirely of underclassmen (two freshman and two sophomores).
Perhaps the most enthralling race of the meet, the men’s 1500m turned out to be the perfect ending to a storied career. Using a monstrous 56-second last lap, senior Jared Hixon took home the 1500m title in 3:52.73 to claim his first win at a National meet. It was a literal sprint to the finish, with Hixon pulling away in the last 100m:
It is Hixon’s fourth time being an All-American (2x cross-country, 2x track) and comes right after he was the CCC champion in the 1500m and 5000m two weeks ago. It is the 2nd time a Raider has won the 1500m in the past two years (Eric Avila in 2014). The title win was particularly sweet for Hixon, one of the NAIA’s top runners the past 2 years, after rough finishes to his senior cross-country and indoor track seasons. Hixon missed the 2015 National meet for cross-country due to a bout of norovirus, and had his indoor season end prematurely because of injuries.
Continuing the theme of the day, Kevin Poteracke placed 8th in the men’s 3000m steeplechase (9:26.67) to become SOU’s first All-American in the event since 2012. Poteracke, a junior transfer from the Bay Area, is in his first year of competition for the Raiders and is only a year removed from a near two-year sabbatical from running after graduating high school in 2013. Poteracke will be back competing for the Raiders in 2016-2017.
Wrapping up the action for the Raiders at Nationals was the 5000m race, which saw two Raiders put on All-American efforts. On the women’s side, Jessa Perkinson added to her medal count with her 3rd place finish (17:39.31) and making it her second All-American performance in the meet. For the entire 2015-2016 campaign, Perkinson collected 4 All-Americans (1 cross-country, 1 indoor track, 2 outdoor track). Quite the haul for someone who only started running competitively three years ago.
On the men’s side was the defending NAIA champ, Dylan Alexander, competing in only his fourth race of the season. Alexander missed the entire 2015 cross country season due to a groin injury, and that same injury limited Alexander during the winter and early spring. That meant that last month’s Raider Invitational was the first time Alexander had raced in almost a year. Even with the odds stacked against him, Alexander pulled together a superb effort at the CCC championships to qualify for Nationals. That resiliency was on display in today’s 5000m final; after falling to the back in the midpoint of the race, Alexander used a late surge (and a jaw-dropping 27-second last 200 meters) to place 3rd in 14:46.31, achieving All-American status.
The final tally for your Southern Oregon Raiders at the 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Nationals: 9 All-Americans and 2 National Champions.