TRK: Westmont’s Hodges takes 2nd in 400, helps 4×400 team finish 4th

MARION, Ind. — Sophomore Elysia Hodges finished as national runner-up in the women’s 400 meters on the last day of the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Marion, Indiana. Hodges ran a time of 53.77, beating her own team record by 0.96 second.

“Other than the two winning marathons, that would probably be the premiere performance we have ever had,” said Westmont head coach Russell Smelley referring to the back-to-back national championships by Jessica Goulder and Anna Stumbo in 2006 and 2007. “Elysia is one of the best athletes we have and has been training steadily. You could see in her training that this was possible. For her to do this in her third race at nationals with one to go shows her determination and focus. Coach John Larralde timed her training well so that she could peak and have her best performance here at the national championship.”

“I was really nervous,” acknowledged Hodges. “Once the gun went off the girl outside of me went out really hard. I had a flash back to last year in the hurdles when the girl in lane two had gone out fast too. I didn’t want to freak myself out, so I just held it. On the curve, I could hear lane five catching up with me so I decided to go with her. Coming around the curve, I did a quick glance and I saw Theresa in the stands waving me on. So, I just ran my heart out. When I finished and looked at the time I honestly couldn’t believe it.

“Earlier today, we were walking from the dining commons to watch Shane’s triple jump. I was talking with Matt Shiney and some other people and I said, ‘I think I can break 54 one day. I don’t know when, but I think a 53 would be a respectable time.’ And I did it today. I was so happy.”

Less than two hours later, Hodges was back on the track competing in the finals of the 4 x 400 meter relay with teammates Karlie Storkson, Amanda Chevalier and Theresa Nealon. The team finished fourth, completing the race in 3:48.38 to earn All-American honors. The time was 0.11 seconds slower than yesterday’s school record set during the trials.

“Going into the race there was a question mark regarding Karlie’s injury,” said Smelley, “She actually ran a little faster which was a real big plus. Mandy ran the fastest she has ever run in a relay by almost a second. When she was challenged she raced and brought it in. That gave Theresa a chance to pick up people and set it up for Elysia to hold off the hoards that were chasing her.”

“We were all really nervous going into yesterday’s race,” said Chevalier. “Being able to make it to the finals was a huge deal. Being able to compete well was awesome. When I was on the back turn, I saw the girls coming up next to me. I didn’t want them to pass me. I think that help me run to the strong finish.”

“That was my last race ever in college track and field,” noted Nealon. “It was a good ending. I didn’t get to go on to the 800 meter finals like I wanted to, but I enjoyed running the 4 x 400 with my teammates more than I would have making All-American in the 800. The real essence of track and field is competing with your teammates and winning with them. It is all the more sweet when you are with people whom you have trained and competed with and just love.

“The handoff between Mandy and I was messy because there where just a lot of people,” continued Nealon. “I was in lane three coming in and had to cut all the way out for Elysia to get the baton. It wasn’t the cleanest race, but it was a good race. I gave everything I had.”

Earlier in the day, with emphasis on the word early, Daniel Erickson and Theresa Nealon lined up at six o’clock to compete in the marathon. Erickson finished in 16th place in the men’s competition, finishing in a time of 2:36:08. Rosendale recorded a time of 3:23:22 to claim 27th place in the women’s race.

“Danica’s goal was to break 3:30,” said Smelley. “After a tough semester of student-teaching and not performing in track all that well, it was a redemptive effort for her. Danica paced herself quite well through the first 20 miles and was moving strongly. In the last three and one-half miles it finally caught up with her. She held on to finish and came in on a good pace.”

“The first few miles I felt grateful to be here,” said Erickson. “We had a fun pack of mostly GSAC (Golden State Athletic Conference) guys that were talking and telling jokes. I wasn’t, because I was trying to conserve energy. It didn’t really feel like we were racing, it just felt like we were buddies on a long run.

“At mile 19, almost on the dot, pain came in,” recounted Erickson. “The next four miles were pretty miserable. In the last three miles or so, I had this resurgence of energy and really picked it up. I was passing mostly people who had passed me in the four miles before.

“It felt good finishing strong. I don’t know how to explain what happened. It felt like I had phantom limbs and there was no way to push myself more. That was the one pace I could go. I don’t know if I mentally broke through or if something physiologically changed. I think I was feeding off the minimal miles left and also picking off people and trying to finish strong.

“I had set a goal of 2:36 and I was at 2:36:08. I think I was on pace to go a lot faster. I looked at my GPS watch that marks the miles. The four miles I was in pain included a 6:20 and a 6:40 which really killed the pace. I’d like to run it again and get under 2:36 and hopefully faster so I can figure out how to push through the hard part.”

Erickson did not follow a usual path in preparing for the marathon.

“I was in a China studies program,” said Erickson. “I qualified by running a half-marathon in Irvine two days before I left. We were mostly in Xiamen, which is a beach town across from Taiwan. The pollution wasn’t terrible for China, but I definitely noticed the skies are bluer here. When we went up north, the pollution was awful and I had to pick my days to miss training and my days to run anyway.

“I was able to put in as many miles as I would have at Westmont, however, there was no weight room training and no speed work. The hardest part was not having a team to train with. The food was hard and I got sick a couple of times. I told Evan Bradford that I wouldn’t wish training for a marathon in China on my worst enemy.”

Also competing on Saturday was Shane Rowan in the men’s triple jump. Rowan’s best jump of 14.38 meters (47-2.25) tied him for tenth place. The three-time All-American in the triple jump was hampered by an injury he experienced this week while training for the event.