May 11, 2011
The story behind the Steeplechase Sweep
By David Boyce
"Let's sweep the steeple. Let's sweep the steeple," said junior T.R. Pursell as he ran back and forth across the field at Emporia State University.
"He finished his race and when he came off the podium, he came up to me and said, ‘the wind is strong on the home stretch, but I don't know what your strategy is. Get behind someone. That's what I did until the last 800.'/"
Pursell, who won the men's 3,000 steeplechase with a time of 9:27.49, feared that the hot weather last weekend might affect Poole in an adverse way the last few 100 meters. He made sure to keep her spirits up.
"Going into the final part of her race she was kind of struggling," he said. "I kept saying to her let's sweep the steeple."
Poole stayed strong and completed a Bearcat sweep in the steeplechase, finishing with a first-place time of 11:29.45.
"It was really encouraging and awesome we were both able to do that," Poole said. "I'm real excited and I think he is to."
The pressure was definitely on Poole and Pursell. They entered the conference meet as heavy favorites to finish first.
Pursell's best time was 17 seconds better than his closest competitor and Poole was nearly 10 seconds better than her nearest competitor.
In that situation, Northwest Coach Scott Lorek said you just want to stay away from them.
"The hard part for me was hoping they would both win without making them too nervous," Lorek said.
Winning a conference title is very meaningful, especially in the MIAA where the competition is so stiff.
Most teams in the MIAA have four or five athletes who will go on to challenge for NCAA Division II titles.
Going into the MIAA Championship as a top seed in an event only means you have had a good season so far. But a title is definitely not guaranteed.
Pursell won his race by only three seconds and Poole was just over a second better than the second-place finisher.
"It puts pressure on you, more so than being a second or third seed," Pursell said. "You are expected to win it."
And when you win, the joy is almost unexplainable.
"I had a lot of different emotions," Poole said. "I was pretty excited that all the hard work in practice and running with the team paid off. I was excited I was able to do that and I didn't let my nerves get the best of me on such a big day.
"There is always more pressure, not from the coach, but the pressure I put on myself and the different things I think about in terms of race strategy and form and all that. Everything has to come together in order to have a good race."
Actually, the seeds of their conference championship titles were planted last summer when Pursell and Poole, on their own, ran countless miles in the heat to prepare for the 2010-11 school year.
Pursell saw immediate results by finishing third in the MIAA and 10th at regionals during the cross country season.
"This year was by far my best," Pursell said. "I never scored that high in any of those races before. I was all-conference in each of the three seasons so that was nice to have that happen this year.
"Definitely, I had a really good summer and the cross country season went really well off that."
Unfortunately for Poole, she suffered a stress fracture in her knee late in the summer and had to redshirt during the cross country season.
"I think she could have been one of our top three cross country runners and we ended up not having her," Lorek said.
"She had to take time off in August and missed all of September. She started training for the track season in October. She had a good indoor season and she came into outdoor season in really good shape."
Poole was upset, though, that she couldn't run with the seniors on last year's cross country team.
"It was really disappointing because it was one of the best summers I've ever had," Poole said. "I trained more than I ever had in my life. Running 50 miles a week is a lot for me personally. I was going into cross country and I found out I had a stress fracture in my knee."
But she clearly sees the benefits of solid training during the summer.
"Because of the team's accomplishments and my accomplishments, this year has really given me more dedication," Poole said. "I want to put in an even better summer than last year. Hopefully, our team will come back and have an even better season in cross country next fall."
Poole, Pursell and 16 other Northwest track and field athletes still have some competition left in the 2010-11 season.
Lorek is taking most of the Bearcats to Chicago this weekend for the last-chance track meet. It's a meet that gives NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III track athletes one last opportunity to reach qualifying times in their respective division for the national meet.
In addition, assistant coach Tessa Koschel will take Seth Staashelm and Adrienne Cornelius to Hays, Kan., for one final shot to qualify in the decathlon and hepthatlon.
"My lifetime P.R. is 9:13 and that's from last year," Pursell said. "For the national list I need to go 9:00. At Chicago you have people for D-I and D-II and D-III and everybody has the same goal. We want to get that qualifying time to go. It's all about the time there. Everybody will run hard."
Poole said the meet will be a lot of fun.
"Last year when I went it was a lot of good competition," she said. "It's a good opportunity to run a good time. Everybody who goes to this meet wants to run fast."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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