15 NCAA Div. III individual championships
NAPERVILLE, ILL.—Never losing his lead, Central College sophomore Eric Larson (sophomore, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS) won the heptathlon at the NCAA Division III indoor track and field championships Saturday.
Meanwhile, Eli Horton (sophomore, Runnells, Southeast Polk HS) and Felicia Coleman (senior, Houston, Texas, J. Frank Dobie HS) each garnered all-America honors. Horton placed fourth in the mile, shattering a 33-year-old school record, while Coleman was eighth in the 60-meters.
The Central men finished tied for ninth with 15 points, the program’s second top-10 indoor finish and eighth overall. The Dutch took runner-up honors in 2011. Wis.-La Crosse won the team title with 74 points. The Central women tied for 58th with one point. Wis.-Oshkosh captured the crown with 56.
Larson scored 5,277 points, a school record and the second-most points in Division III history. He improved his personal best by almost 400 points and won the event by more than 100 points. Larson’s title is the 30th individual championship in school history and Central’s 14th national individual title in men’s track and field.
“Eric really stepped up to the place and did a great job throughout the entire event, getting personal bests in a lot of events,” coach Joe Dunham said. “To be an all-American and national champion is extremely special and it’s a credit to him and Coach (Jim) Fuller. They both did a spectacular job.”
Now a three-time all-American, Larson matched his personal best in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.28 before launching the pole vault 13-1.5. He closed the event with a season-best 2:46.89 in the 1,000 meters.
“It was huge for Eric to get such a good start to the day in the hurdles,” Dunham said. “It’s such a violent race and he ran the fastest time in the field.”
On Friday, Larson recorded marks of 7.19 in the 60 meters, 21-10.74 in the long jump, 37-8.5 in the shot put and 6-7.5 in the long jump.
Larson took eighth at the 2012 indoor championships in the heptathlon and fifth at the 2012 outdoor meet in the decathlon.
Horton, already a cross country all-American, crossed the line in a time of 4:10.01. The mark improved his career best by three seconds.
“The game plan with Eli was to run an honest race, to go out and run hard without any type of strategy” Dunham said. “Eli took the lead and held on to it for the first half of the race. A couple guys went around him but he responded and went with them and finished strong.”
The previous school record of 4:11.78 was set by Jerry Fitzsimmons in 1980.
“To take down a school record at Central is a big deal and to take down a record from someone who is arguably the best distance runner in Central history is an incredible feat,” Dunham said. “And to do it as a sophomore is extremely exciting.”
Coleman capped her indoor track career with her third all-American plaque. She locked up the eighth spot with a 7.8 finish.
“Felicia came in ranked fourth after a great race Friday and set up well and competed well,” Dunham said. “She wasn’t far from taking down a few more runners and I couldn’t be happier for her to be an all-American again.”
Dunham is also excited for Coleman’s outdoor season.
“She left the meet with a lot of confidence and her fitness level is at an all-time high,” he said. “She’s very motivated and ready to get outside to run some 200s and 400s.”
Coleman received previous all-America honors in the 2011 indoor and outdoor 4x400 relays.
Dunham is already looking forward to improving the men’s top-10 finish in the outdoor season.
“I feel like we left some athletes at home that could have and should have been at the national meet and it’s frustrating to know we’re a better team than what was shown,” he said. “But we’ll get another chance in the outdoor season. We’re shooting for the best and want to compete at the highest level.”
The season kicks off March 23 at the Augustana (Ill.) Invitational at Rock Island, Ill.
“It starts over in the outdoor season and for the men, our focus is on winning a conference title. For the women, we want to compete with Wartburg and compete for championships.”
Photos courtesy of Mount Union (Ohio) and Wartburg sports information