March 14, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Sophomore Kate Grace wrapped up competition at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships hosted by Texas A&M University at McFerrin Athletic Center on Saturday evening with a third-place finish in the 800-meter run in a time of 2:07.77. This performance earned the Bulldogs one point and tied the team for 60th place at the NCAA Championships. This is the first time that the Bulldogs have had an athlete compete at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships since 2006.
Grace ran an impressive race on Saturday evening to earn All-American honors, which are awarded to the top eight athletes in each event at the NCAA Championships. While her time of 2:07.77 does not improve the school record that she set during the preliminary round, the time is still faster than that run by any other Yale athlete besides Grace. In her race, Grace kept up with the other athletes in the field for the first 600 meters of the race before falling behind in the closing part of the race. The race was won by Brigham Young University's freshman Lacey Cramer in a time of 2:04.27. If Grace had run in the finals as fast as she did in the preliminary round, Grace would have taken fourth place. The fastest runner from yesterday, Tennessee's Phoebe Wright, took second in a time of 2:04.38. The last Bulldog to earn All-American honors at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships was Lindsay Donaldson '08 in 2006 in the mile, in which she placed seventh.
In indoor track, because of the short-length of the track and the tight quarters, it is very important to get out quick to avoid congestion. Unfortunately, Grace, who was tired from Friday's racing in the preliminary rounds, was not able to perfectly execute her strategy of getting out fast.
"My strategy was to get out quick because I was stacked up with three other runners and then cut in in the middle of the pack," Grace said. "Unfortunately, I got behind the other two girls that I was running with and when I cut, I as at the back of the pack. In the 800-meter run indoors, it is all about running fast everyone was so fast. There were lots of elbows being thrown and I was expending energy trying to get into position. At the end of the third lap, I was in eighth and close to the other pack, but started to fall behind on the last lap. They didn't run that much faster than I did on Friday, but I was just fatigued from running so hard the night before to make it into finals. On a track like that at the Texas A&M, it is especially important to get out fast because the curves are so long."
For Grace, however, there are many more opportunities to improve on her eighth-place finish. Grace has three more seasons of outdoor competition and two more seasons of indoor competition remaining. In the finals, three of the competitors were seniors while two were juniors, so Grace will be set to be one of the top athletes in the nation for the next three years. In 2008, she competed at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 800-meter run, where she placed 24th in a time of 2:09.47. This year, Grace has been even faster indoors than she was outdoors last year, where the times are generally faster.
Grace was pleased with her performance and excited about her future in the event.
"I think that this weekend was a success," Grace said. "After Friday, I was so elated after setting a personal record and making finals. I knew that I had already earned All-American honors, so on Saturday, I was able to just live the experience of competing at Nationals and getting on the awards stand. I was running next to some of the great runners in the nation. I was definitely less nervous this time at Nationals because of my previous experience at Nationals and I will work on continuing to calm the nerves so I don't waste energy on anxiety. I was much more calm and collected during my races, which should help in the future when I am running at Nationals. The biggest thing is getting experience in running in fast races, so next year I should be so much better because of the extra experience."
With her eighth-place performance, Grace has entered the elites of Ivy League track and field. On Friday, during the preliminary round to qualify for the finals, Grace ran a stunning race to place fourth in her heat in a time of 2:04.72. This time is tied for the third-best performance in Ivy League history behind Harvard's Meredith Rainey and Cornell's Morgan Uceny. Uceny was a six-time All-American at Cornell and has a personal best in the 800-meter run of 2:00.01. Rainey is also an impressive person for Grace to fall behind as she was a two-time Olympic semifinalist in the event and won NCAA titles in the event in 1989 and 1990. Rainey has a personal best of 1:57.04 and placed as high as fourth at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 800-meter run.
The meet was also a successful one for the Ivy League. While Grace was one of three Ivy League athletes to compete, she was the only one to compete in a track event. Impressively, all of the Ivy League athletes earned All-American honors. Grace will now turn her focus to the outdoor season.
In the outdoor season, Grace and the rest of the team will be competing on the 400-meter track, so the longer straight-aways mean that positioning will not be as important. As well, Grace will have to get used to running more races at a fast pace. Unlike the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, which has two rounds in each event, the Indoor Championships has three rounds.
"Right now, I do not have the same base as a lot of the other girls in the race because I didn't do cross-country and wasn't able to heavily train during the fall, so my legs were tired in the finals," Grace said. "I am not used to running two fast races in a row. The main thing that I need to do during the outdoor season is gain the strength and fitness that will allow me to run two or three fast races at this level of competition in a row. While I never ran indoor track before last year, I have learned to love competing indoors this year."
The Bulldogs are currently on a spring break training trip that will conclude with the University of California-Irvine Invitational on Mar. 21.
Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity