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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eastern Washington’s ‘Egypt’ Simmons dazzles way to long jump gold at Big Sky indoor championships

Eastern Washington's "Egypt" Caitlin Simmons performs the long jump on Friday during the Big Sky Conference indoor track and field championships at the Podium.  (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
By John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

It was probably just a coincidence that Friday evening’s final race was finishing before Egypt Simmons took the stage in earnest. Or maybe it wasn’t.

She does not mind an audience.

Picking her moment, Simmons set her many Eastern Washington teammates roaring with a long jump of 19 feet, 9¾ inches, and in the process diverting a big hunk of the attention and juice even on a night of record-setting at the Big Sky Conference indoor track and field championships at the Podium.

“It only takes one jump,” she said. “You know what I’m saying?”

Simmons was referring to her cliffhanger stylings, fighting through some difficulty in hitting the takeoff board clean until unleashing her winner on the fifth of her six jumps – moving up from third place – even as she’d brought the conference-leading jump (19-11¾) into the meet.

“I couldn’t find (the board) today,” she admitted. “But I found it when I needed it.”

Simmons brought her show to Eastern this season from her native Virginia via the University of Hawaii, where she flashed much promise and nearly as much inconsistency. The latter has been ironed out with the help of EWU jumps coach Jonina Brinson – and just two weeks ago Simmons broke the Eagles’ indoor long and triple jump records on the same day.

“Miss Jonina got me right,” she said. “Our relationship makes a great energy and makes me want to deliver great marks. It’s real cold – they didn’t put that in the brochure – but it’s an amazing environment to grow.”

She’ll tackle the triple jump Saturday for another chance to celebrate, which she did with style Friday – hair and face speckled with glitter, eyelashes just short of 19 feet long and A-game moves on the podium. Oh, and the first name? It’s actually Caitlin. Egypt isn’t even a middle name – just the one she prefers.

“It ain’t got nothing to do with nothing,” Simmons laughed. “In Hawaii, one of the girls had a nickname and she said I should have one. So we spent a week trying to figure it out, and Egypt was it. One day it’ll be my name, period.”

If there’s a counter to Simmons’ showmanship, it’s Northern Arizona’s numbing domination. The Lumberjacks jumped out to significant head starts toward extending their team championship strings – 11 for the men, three for the women. To no one’s surprise, the serious work was done in the distances.

The Lumberjacks boast some of the finest distance talent in the nation, whether it’s collegiate indoor 5,000-meter record holder Nico Young or multiple Big Sky champs Drew Bosley and Annika Reiss. So it was a minor upset to see one of the four records that fell on the night go to none of them.

Aaron Las Heras, a Spaniard who began his college career at Wake Forest, led a 1-2-4-6-7-8 NAU finish in the men’s 5,000 by taking down Bosley’s meet record and the Podium mark as well with a run of 13 minutes, 36.24 seconds. He and teammate Brodey Hasty set a sharp pace – the goal was 13:25 – and put distance between themselves and Bosley with a mile to go.

It can be easy to get lost in the shuffle among so many good runners, so Las Heras was ecstatic at joining the champions club.

“I’m super excited and proud of it,” he said. “They’ve made me better, and I hope I’m contributing to the program, as well.”

It wasn’t all distance doings. The Jacks went 1-2-3 in the men’s weight throw, as well, with Garret Bernt claiming the meet record with a spin of 72-5¾ – off his seasonal best of beyond 75, but understandably so.

“We did some heavy lifting this week because we’re trying to peak for nationals,” said Bernt, who picked up the hammer while at Stevenson High School on the Columbia River and is fourth on the current NCAA list. “The legs are pretty sore. But it’s something we have to do.”

NAU’s Madeline Wilson lowered the women’s 200 record to 23.31 in the preliminaries, and Montana State’s Colby Wilson cleared a cluttered list in the men’s vault – four men shared the record – by scaling 17-6¼. Eastern’s Zach Klobutcher took his school record to 17-2¼ in finishing second, as the Eagles had three scorers top 16 feet.

“This gives me a lot of confidence heading outdoors,” said Klobutcher, who had a strong third attempt at Wilson’s winning height. “I was getting a little tired there for that last attempt, and I put the last bit of steam I had into it, and the pole was a little small for that.”

Elsewhere in the heats, Northern Colorado’s Jerome Campbell was the fastest qualifier in three races – the 60, 200 and 60 hurdles, where his 7.58 clocking is the fastest in Big Sky history.