Twice an NCAA champion and twice an All-American in addition to that, Whitworth’s Emmanuel Bofa took some ribbing Saturday afternoon when – in his final opportunity – he at last won an individual race at the Northwest Conference track and field championships.
“Finally,” teased coach Toby Schwarz. “You’ve been killing me.”
But more rewarding to the senior from Puyallup, Wash., than boring through the wind to victory in the 800 meters at Boppell Track was what happened behind him.
“It was great to turn around at the finish line and see all my teammates follow in after me,” he said. “That was an awesome sight.”
Stringing in behind Bofa were Dusty Caseria, Steven Acosta and Tyler Alsin – and only a late surge by Linfield’s Lucian Battaglia past freshman Trevor Berrian prevented a 1-2-3-4-5 Whitworth sweep.
That sort of clustering occurred often enough during the weekend for the Pirates to roll up 266 points and win a fourth NWC men’s title by 81 points over defending champion Willamette. Of the seven individual events won by Whitworth, only one – Nick Gallagher’s late kick in the 5,000 – didn’t include another Pirate finishing second or third, or both.
The Bearcats made it nine straight in the women’s competition, however, overcoming George Fox by five points late in the afternoon as the host team finished third behind the long-distance double of freshman Joy Shufeldt and sophomore Amy Wyatt’s win in the shot put.
When he looked at his roster before the season, Schwarz told his seniors that the men’s team could score 300 points.
“But you said that last year,” one of them said, pointing out that they came up 102 points short and finished second.
They didn’t get 300 this time, either, but neither was the competition close. A couple of events into Saturday’s program the Pirates had a 100-point lead, and there really wasn’t an event where they stubbed a toe – unless they were stubbing it on someone’s backside.
Take the throws. Whitworth’s men won all four of them and ran up a ridiculous 96 points – and that was still four short of their goal. Senior Jeff Kintner tied the meet record in the shot (56 feet, 111/2 inches), doubled back to win the hammer and was named outstanding male athlete. Afterward, he saluted the culture that’s grown up around throws guru Gary Baskett and other assistants Derrick DeWindt and Drew Ulrick, the Washington State grad who was off throwing the discus 204-9 at the Drake Relays on Saturday.
“We started with a pretty talented young group that’s just kept getting better as we got older,” Kintner said. “When one guy does well, it just challenges the rest of us.
“It’s just such a good atmosphere, and one advantage we have is that we have a throwing coach for every event.”
But where the Pirates achieved true separation Saturday was in the middle distances, normally a Willamette stronghold. It began with Acosta’s win in the 1,500 – astonishing because he’s a freshman, was no higher than fifth on the seasonal NWC list, blew past defending champ Leo Castillo with 300 meters to go and came to Whitworth to play soccer last fall.
“I didn’t play that much, but I’ll try again this fall,” he said. “If it doesn’t go well, I think I’ll go out for cross country my junior and senior years.”
Then came the windfall in the 800 – and Bofa’s first title, his 1:52.00 clocking well off his best but reflective of a sore Achilles tendon he’s been nursing.
“I have to give it to my coach – he could have put me in the 1,500 or another race, too, but he gave me the opportunity to just focus on the 800,” said Bofa, who has done multiple duty in previous NWC meets.
“I was just trying to enjoy this day and soak up my last 800 on this track. Some races you have to tough it out. This one was about having fun and giving thanks to my coaches and teammates for all the hard work we’ve done on this track.”
Idaho’s Mykael Bothum and Washington State’s Jeshua Anderson each won a pair of events and five meet records fell at the annual Cougar Invitational in Pullman.
Bothum’s strong throwing day included a season-best 51-7 that upped her meet record in the shot put and a big lifetime best in the discus at 166-0, where she bested WSU’s Ashley Kenney (159-8) and Jasmine Johnson-McKeown (154-8). Eastern Washington’s Nicole Luckenbach pushed her school record in the hammer to 199-8.
Anderson, the NCAA leader in the 400 hurdles, skipped that event, but won the highs in 14.46 and doubled back to take the 800 in 1:54.45.