Stevens starts pursuit of 3 NCAA titles

Updated: June 11, 2009, 3:03 AM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Sarah Stevens qualified for the finals on her first shot put attempt -- then called it a day.

This was the easy part.

Stevens began her busy week at the NCAA track and field championships Wednesday, competing in the hammer throw and shot put. She qualified for the finals in both, and she'll be back Thursday for the discus. The Arizona State senior is expected to contend for the title in all three weight events in what could be one of the most impressive individual performances of the meet.

"Shot put's really kind of like my baby. It's always my go-to event for me," Stevens said. "Hammer's definitely my second one, but I won nationals in the discus last year and things have been going well this year."

Stevens played volleyball and basketball growing up, and she also ran track. She took up shot put and discus in sixth grade.

"I was one of those kids that was bigger than everybody else, so the coach was like, 'Oh, she's an athlete. Put her in there," the 5-foot-10 Stevens said.

Stevens is the defending national champion in the discus, and she won the indoor title in the shot put in 2007. She's a big reason the Arizona State women are expected to contend for the team title this week.

Last year at this event, Stevens finished first in the discus, third in the hammer throw and sixth in the shot put. With 19 points, she personally outscored all but 10 other schools.

"From an international standpoint, it's still hard to tell what's her best event," Arizona State coach Greg Kraft said. "She has been a luxury, without question."

Stevens' success in the hammer throw is perhaps most impressive. The two-armed motion is much different than the shot put or discus, and Stevens didn't pick up the event until she arrived at Arizona State.

"Right away, I struggled a lot," she said. "It's very different from anything I'd ever done, but now, I love it."

Kraft credits Arizona State throws coach David Dumble for Stevens' success, along with that of Jason Lewis, who also competes in all three events for the Sun Devils. Lewis qualified for the finals in the hammer throw Wednesday but not the shot put.

Lewis says competing in all three events doesn't require any special skill.

"It really only just takes the will to put in the practice for it," he said. "A lot of people could do it, but nobody really wants to do the work."

Stevens' shot put toss of 56 feet, 10 3/4 inches was the top qualifying distance, and her hammer throw of 205-10 was good for third place in the preliminary round. She'll compete in discus qualifying and the shot put finals Thursday. The hammer throw finals are Friday, and the discus finals are Saturday.

"I'd love to win all three, repeat as a national champion in the discus. I've never won shot put outdoors, so I'd like to do that too," she said. "And hammer ... see what I can do."

There were no finals Wednesday, and the events that were scheduled were interrupted by a lightning storm around 7 p.m. local time. After a delay of about three hours, the athletes returned.

Texas A&M's Porscha Lucas ran a relay and then a qualifying heat for the 100 meters. She then had to wait out the weather before her 100 semifinal.

"It's not very fun to sit for like three hours after you ran twice already," she said.

Lucas, one of the keys to Texas A&M's hopes for a women's team title, qualified in the 100. She also competes in the 200, an event she finished second in last year.

Oregon star Galen Rupp qualified for the 5,000 finals with little difficulty in the last event of the night, which ended around 1 a.m. local time.

The top men's sprinters appeared more than ready for the meet. LSU's Trindon Holliday ran his first 100 heat in 10.00 despite easing up near the end. Clemson's Jacoby Ford finished in 10.01, and Mississippi freshman D'Angelo Cherry posted a time of 10.04.

That was all before the lightning delay. The semifinals weren't until after the rain had cleared, and the times were a bit slower. Holliday posted the fastest semifinal time at 10.14.

"The final's going to be real fast," Holliday said. "These guys out here are good competitors. It's going to be something to see Friday night."

A pair of twin brothers from Florida State led qualifying in the 400. Jonathan Borlee finished in 45.50, and Kevin Borlee was second in 45.88.

Destinee Hooker of Texas qualified for the high jump finals. She was the 2006 and 2007 champion in that event before taking the 2008 season off to focus on volleyball.

Oregon's Ashton Eaton was way ahead at the midway point of the decathlon. Eaton was the top decathlete in the 100 and 400, as well as the long jump.

Jennifer Barringer of Colorado, who competed for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing, won her heat in the 3,000 steeplechase by nearly eight seconds.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press