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EUGENE, Ore. - Fourth-place in 2016, second-place in 2017, and now finally NCAA Champion in 2018. After two attempts at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, junior Isaiah Harris (Lewiston, Maine) won the national title in the men’s 800-meter run Friday at Historic Hayward Field. As a team, the Penn State men’s track & field program tied for 18th with 15 points.
“We came here with a little bit of a smaller group this year than last year,” head coach John Gondak said. “We still had the same goals in mind in being a top-20 team and to do that I thought we needed to score somewhere around 15 to 16 points and with the group that we had here we scored 15 points and that tied us for 18th. I am proud of how people competed this weekend. I am excited that a majority of the people that are competing here this weekend will be back next year and they will bring back that experience, as well. To have three All-Americans and a national champion, I am thrilled for Penn State track & field right now.”
With the rain coming down on the track and facing three runners from last year’s race, Harris rose to the challenge down the final 100-meters and crossed the finish line first with the second-fastest time of his career – 1:44.76 – to bring home gold.
Over the first 400-meters of the race, Harris found himself in sixth-place with a split of 51.54. During the final 400-meters of the race, Harris split 53.22 to chase down Michael Saruni of UTEP and bring home the title to 800U. With Harris’ title, he captured the first outdoor men’s title since Brian Milne won the discus throw in 1993 and the first 800-meter run title since 1923. In 1922 and 1923, Alan Helffrich won the then-880-yard run.
“I can’t wait to leave the media tent and go look at my phone and see all the love that the alumni, my family, my friends back home that are watching me, are sending me,” Harris said. “The Penn Relays Wheel was cool, but this means more to the alumni than the Penn Relays Wheel did. We have a lot of those and we don’t have a lot of titles for being 800U. I want to see that title for Penn State.
“Right after we split 400, we started picking up the pace, we started decently fast, but it was coming out of the turn at 500 to 600, we kind of made a big move and it turned into a sprint there. Saruni went right around me and I went with him. During the last 200 I tried to not let him open up a gap and I came up on the last turn on his shoulder. I kept telling myself ‘Finish, finish,’ my legs starting tightening up, but I knew I needed to finish the race. I willed myself to the end, I would say.”
In the field for the Penn State men, junior David Lucas (Lititz, Pa.) brought home his first First Team All-America honor in the men’s discus throw with his seventh-place finish with a throw of 186-7. Lucas tallied the highest finish for the Nittany Lion in the men’s discus throw since the aforementioned Brian Milne.
“I’m happy to come from the Indoor Championships as the national champion in the men’s weight throw, being a First Team All-American indoors and now leaving the outdoor championships as a First Team All-American in the men’s discus throw,” Lucas said. “To garner First Team All-America honors in both seasons is a nice way to wrap up my junior year.”
On the women’s side, Maddie Holmberg (Greensburg, Pa.) closed out the first day of the heptathlon in sixth-place with a score of 3,467 points.
Holmberg opened up the competition with a time of 14.06 in the 100-meter hurdles for a score of 940 points. Following the 100-meter hurdles, Holmberg took three attempts at a career-best height of 5-5¼, but finished with a season-best height of 5-4¼ for 771 points.
The shot put saw Holmberg tally an outdoor personal-best distance of 44-10¾ for a score of 773 points. Her distance in the shot put was the second-best mark in the field on Friday. Holmberg closed out the day with the fourth-best time in the 200-meter dash (24.29) for a score of 953 points.
“I was expecting more out of myself in the hurdles just by the way I have been practicing,” Holmberg said. “I think I was ready to run a little faster, but you just have to be prepared for those curveballs sometimes. I made sure that I was going to come back in the next two events.”
The final day of the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships concludes on Saturday. Action begins with Holmberg opening up the second day of the heptathlon in the long jump at 11:30 a.m. (PDT). Along with Holmberg, Megan McCloskey (Lower Gwynedd, Pa.) competes in the women’s high jump at 3 p.m. (PDT) and Danae Rivers (Derby, Conn.) is in the women’s 1,500-meter run final at 3:41 p.m. (PDT)