PULLMAN – The obvious chasm in the level of competition from Pe Ell High – a Class 2B school in Doty, Washington – to the Pac-12 track and field multievent championships was enough for Alissa Brooks-Johnson to find an opponent who could beat her in the heptathlon.
But only one who could it.
The Washington State freshman placed second in the two-day competition, which consists of seven events including throws, jumps and races. The stage was a far cry from her days competing in Washington’s second-smallest high school classification where she won eight state track and field championships in various events.
Although the setting was different, the results were similar.
“It surprised me a lot because coming here I figured everyone was just amazing,” Brooks-Johnson said. “As a freshman, I’m back at the low podium and I have to work my way up. For me to still compete with older athletes and potentially beat them, I was just really shocked, so it changes my confidence and my thinking.”
She entered the second day in fifth place, but finished first in the javelin and second in the 800 meters – the day’s final two events – to finish with a personal-best 5,325 points.
Her javelin throw was her best by 6 feet, and her time of 2:15.05 in the 800 was a personal record by more than 4 seconds.
“In the 800, I was so nervous, but nerves kind of get you hyped up anyways, so that helped,” Brooks-Johnson said. “I did not even think I could (set a personal record) by that much, at that point, but I knew the person I had to stay with (the leader) so she kind of just allowed me to get to that point and got me that second place.”
The only person to beat her in the 800 was the only person to beat her in overall competition, USC freshman Amalie Iuel, who finished with 5,378 points. The two were competitive throughout the weekend, and Brooks-Johnson’s javelin finish was the only time either competitor beat the other by more than 100 points in an event.
The pair were the only underclassmen to finish in the top five; third-place finisher Amber Passalaqua from Arizona and California’s Jaci Powell, who finished in fifth place, are both seniors.
By default the two freshmen are rivals and will be for the next three years.
“Whenever you have a person in your conference that you’re competitive with, that always fuels the fire and keeps people competitive,” WSU coach Rick Sloan said.
Unfortunately for Brooks-Johnson, her inaugural season will likely end with Sunday’s performance. While her score of 5,325 was nearly 400 points higher than her previous best, it is not high enough for her to advance to the NCAA championships.
She had to deal with a strong headwind on Saturday that kept scores in the hurdles down, and after appearing to clear her height in the high jump she kicked the bar off with her heel.
Just a few freshman miscues kept her from a Pac-12 championship and likely out of the NCAAs.
“We were kind of going into it hoping that we might be able to get to over 5,400 points and make an NCAA mark and get into the meet,” Sloan said. “Her first jump in the long jump wasn’t even on the board and it wasn’t even her best jump. Had she been on the board and gotten the extra points and made that bar in the high jump, those two things alone would have put her over 5,400 points and that would have gotten her in.”
WSU had another freshman in the men’s decathlon, Dino Dodig, who sat in sixth place after the first day. But Dodig did not compete on Sunday because of a recurring back injury.
Senior Spencer Wordell also competed for WSU, placing ninth in the decathlon with a score of 6,722.
Oregon’s Dakotah Keys won with 7,801 points.