Sunday, June 11, 2006

Look of a winner

Noble NCAA champion

Rogers product first in 800 meters

Oregon's Rebekah Noble, right, looks to the video screen to see her time as she crosses the finish line to win the women's 800 meters at the NCAA championships. (Associated Press )

Maybe Rebekah Noble is still a sprinter at heart.

With a fantastic surge down the final straightaway, the University of Oregon freshman from Spokane ran past a field of young rivals and won the 800 meters Saturday afternoon at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif. – the first freshman to win the event in the 25 years the women have competed.

"I didn't know that, actually, but it feels pretty good whether or not I was the first freshman," she said. "It feels amazing."

In the process, the Rogers High School graduate avenged her narrow loss to fellow freshman Heather Dorniden of Minnesota in the NCAA indoor championships 800 last March, and made a clean sweep of Pacific-10 Conference, NCAA West Regional and national titles – a remarkably quick transition to the rigors of collegiate racing.

"It's just kind like the state meet," joked Noble, "but a little bit bigger."

Noble won six state titles at Rogers, but only one of those required her to run more than a lap – and it's that speed that carried her to her first national championship.

Sixth with 200 meters to go, Noble accelerated around the final turn and took aim at Dorniden – finally passing her in the final 30 meters to win in 2 minutes, 2.07 seconds, the fastest collegiate 800 time of the season. In the process, she covered the final 100 meters in 14.6 seconds.

"The whole plan was to stay on the outside and sit wherever I wanted," Noble said, "and then with 350 to go to make sure I was gaining on them and whoever was in first – just being in striking distance to win. I wanted to start going at 150 and then put the burners on with 50 to go."

Dorniden finished second in 2:03.02, with California sophomore Alysia Johnson third (2:03.04) and another freshman, Michigan's Geena Gall, fourth (2:04.35).

"They're really nice girls and really good runners and it makes you feel that much better to win," Noble said. "We have three more years with us together. We can make this event really big for the next three years."

Noble's next date: the USATF Junior Championships later this month, with a trip to the World Junior Championships in Beijing at stake.

It was a pretty good day all around for Northwest athletes – and Noble wasn't the only champion. Washington picked off a pair of individual titles, with Ryan Brown winning the men's 800 in 1:46.29 and Amy Lia pulling away to win the women's 1,500 in 4:14.63. Idaho sophomore Dee Olson was sixth in the latter race, clocking 4:18.84, after forcing the pace through the first 1,000 meters.

Washington State didn't come up with any individual winners, but got on the scoreboard three times Saturday with twins Diana and Julie Pickler finishing third and fifth, respectively, in the women's heptathlon and John Cassleman taking fifth in the 400 hurdles.

The Picklers were tied for third after Friday's first four events, but a strong second day by Diana and a couple of physical setbacks for Julie helped separate the two of them. Diana Pickler posted lifetime bests in the long jump (19 feet, 3 1/2 inches) and javelin (132-1) before running a strong 800 (2:20.15) to finish with 5,757 points, just four ahead of Virginia Tech's Saskia Triesscheijn. Julie Pickler totaled 5,604 points in fifth despite jamming a knee and having a recurring case of plantar fasciatis flare up in the long jump.

Cassleman, in his first NCAA final, came on strong in the final 100 meters of the intermediate hurdles and moved from seventh to fifth, nipping LSU's Isa Phillips by .01 in 49.55.

Saturday's other Cougar competitor, pole vaulter Tamara Diles, cleared just one height – 12-11 1/2, a foot less than her best – and finished in a tie for 13th.

Another Spokane athlete, Lewis and Clark graduate Britney Henry, placed sixth in the women's hammer with a throw of 208-7, while Oregon teammate Brittany Hinchcliffe – a transfer from WSU – was a surprising third at 212-3.

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