Pat Ray knows when he’s not wanted.
He just doesn’t know why.
For it’s a rare track team that can’t use a sprinter of his talents. The Mt. Spokane High School graduate has run the 100 meters 10.61 seconds, the 200 in 20.94 and the 400 in 47.95 — range and speed unmatched among Northwest sprinters this spring, and making him a threat to bring home more than a few points for the University of Idaho Vandals at this weekend’s Big West Conference championships in Irvine, Calif.
But about this time a year ago, Ray found himself without a team — and nearly without a sport.
Having signed with Montana State after two years at the Community Colleges of Spokane, Ray had a strong 2003 indoor season — breaking MSU’s school record for the 200. But he severely pulled a hamstring a week before the Big Sky Conference indoor championships and didn’t compete outdoors as he mulled his future.
“I just wasn’t sure it was worth it anymore,” said Ray. “You’re not going to get rich or famous running track and I wasn’t doing very well — I was just frustrated. Things weren’t going right and I was thinking it might be best just to get done with school and get on with my life.”
Central to his frustration, he said, was his situation at MSU. Ray signed there in 2002 “under the pretense I was going to get more (scholarship) money the following year,” he said. “And I thought I’d run well enough to earn it, but they said they couldn’t give me more and they didn’t seem that interested in keeping me around.”
So he got his release from the Bobcats and, after being back at his parents’ home for about a week, got a call from Vandals co-coach Wayne Phipps, who has seen the junior turn into the leader of the sprint corps — though he doesn’t think Ray has scratched the surface in what’s potentially his best event, the 400.
“He’s such a big talent,” Phipps said. “He’s split 46.06 indoors in the relay. He’s had some technical things to work on — really, we’ve had to teach him how to run — but once he gets those down, I really think his future’s in the 400.”
Ray’s take: “It’s a hard event to like. You can only sprint so long before it really starts to hurt, and I think that happens at about 250 meters. When you train for the 400, you have to run 500s — and I see our guys do it in practice and there’s so much pain in their faces when they come across the line.”
Ray will stick to the 100 and 200 this weekend, along with the two relays, as the Vandals try to upset favorites Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Vandal women favored
It’s championship week for the area’s NCAA Division I teams — but only one is a favorite to win a team title.
Idaho’s women will attempt to defend their 2003 crown when the Big West Conference meet begins in earnest today at Irvine.
“I think it would be a disappointment for the team if we don’t win the championship,” said co-coach Yogi Teevens, “even though it is very possible that we could end up second. To go in with the marks that we have and the number of athletes going to regionals and not win conference would be a disappointment for them.”
The Vandals actually have four conference leaders — Tanya Pater in the 100 (a wind-aided 11.71), Mary Kamau in the 1,500 (4:21.75), Letiwe Marakurwa in the steeplechase (10:13.12) and Ina Reiber in the discus (181 feet) — but they have the potential to score in every event, with the possible exception of the two hurdles races.
Idaho has won two of the last three women’s titles, and will face its biggest challenge this time from Cal State Northridge.
“Our kids are good competitors and they’ve been in winning situations before,” Teevens said.
Pac-10s in Tucson
It’s been a tough year for the Washington State Cougars, and it doesn’t figure to get any better at the Pacific-10 Conference championships which resume today at the University of Arizona.
The Cougars have been devastated by injuries, disciplinary issues and general underachievement throughout the season, and seeing either the men’s or women’s team pull out an upper-division finish would be a bit of an upset. The men, in fact, have no entrant in the 800 meters, no one in the top 10 in five other events and only single entrants in 12 individual events. The latest casualties are distance runners Ian Johnson and Danny Wolf, who both competed two weeks ago against Washington but were left back with injuries this week. The women, likewise, will have no long jumper and no top-10 marks in 10 events.
On the individual front, the Cougars have a handful of gold medal contenders — starting with sprinter Anthony Buchanan, who returned to action against the Huskies and has a 10.33 100 meters to his credit. He’ll also anchor the 4x100 relay, which enters the meet with the No. 3 time in the conference, 39.55 seconds. Matt Mason leads all long jumpers with a 26-61/4 best from the indoor season and has the No. 3 time in the high hurdles (13.81). Tim Gehring is No. 3 in the shot put with a 63-6 best, and Curt Borland is a contender in the javelin. The only legitimate women’s contender is triple jumper Blessing Ufodiama, who has a 43-53/4 best.
EWU at Big Skys
Eastern Washington’s Jason Demeroutis and Sarah Hegna threw themselves into the Big Sky Conference championship picture with breakthrough performances at last weekend’s McDonald’s Outdoor in Moscow.
Demeroutis moved to the top of the men’s discus list with a 178-8 heave, while Hegna — just a freshman — moved into a four-way tie atop the women’s pole vault list with a 12-31/2 jump. Both will be in the hunt with the meet continues today in Ogden, Utah.
The Eagles won’t contend for a team title, but defending 400 hurdles champion Alex Moon, steeplechaser Branden Fuller and triple jumper Billy Grubbs are all individual threats among the men.
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