Not everyone was convinced Allie Ostrander's plan to run both the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000 at last year's NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships was a good one.
"A couple coaches said to other people, 'There's no way she could do that,' " Boise State coach Corey Ihmels said. "But she did it, which wasn't a surprise to me."
Ostrander's victory in the steeplechase and fourth-place finish in the 5,000 came just 80 minutes apart, and showed a grit and determination that has since become contagious on the Boise State track team.
A program-record five women qualified for the 2018 championships this week at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. The Broncos begin competition Thursday, and the event will be broadcast live starting at 5 p.m. MT on ESPN2. Saturday's finals are on ESPN beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Boise State will have the most athletes (5) and entries (6) of any Mountain West Conference school on the women's side at nationals, and it is the only program to have a woman competing in each middle distance and distance event.
"I just think it's the natural maturation process of the program. You kind of start from the ground up," said Ihmels, who is in his fifth season at the helm. "You start with a few and you get a couple that make it over the hump. Then everybody else kind of looks at them and says, 'If they can do it, why can't I do it?' And then it's just kind of that mob mentality, and you hope to just keep building it and building it."
Ostrander goes for the difficult double of the steeplechase and 5,000 once again and will be joined on the track by teammates Alexis Fuller (1,500), Sadi Henderson (800), Clare O’Brien (10,000) and Kristie Schoffield (800).
Ostrander welcomes the additional company.
"Not only does it just make the trip to nationals more fun, adding more energy and a little bit less stress to the event, but it also just shows a really positive trajectory for the progress of the team and just building individuals toward some major team success," she said.
Ostrander, Henderson and O'Brien qualified for nationals last season. Henderson did not advance to the final out of her heat in the 800, while O'Brien was 17th in the 5,000.
This year, Henderson is seeded fourth in the 800 and will run in the first heat along with Schoffield, who qualified for nationals as a true freshman.
"Kristie's kind of a goof ball. She's the one that's trying to make everyone laugh," Henderson said. "That's why I think it's really nice having her, because it takes the pressure off it."
O'Brien, a sophomore from Australia, switched from the 5,000 to the 25-lap 10,000 this season after some convincing from her coach.
"The 10k is obviously the longest event on the track," Ihmels said. "You don't choose it. It chooses you. She fought it for a couple years, but we knew all along this was probably going to be her best event."
Fuller is making her outdoor debut at nationals, but the junior was part of the Broncos' distance medley relay that took fifth at the indoor championships in March.
Ihmels said Fuller was not highly recruited out of high school, and it took the Camas, Washington, native some time to recognize the potential her coaches already saw.
"She's really dangerous at the end of the race, and if the race goes slow and it comes down to a kick at the end, she's going to be tough to beat," Ihmels said. "She has a nose for the finish."
Ostrander has an opportunity to become the first women’s NCAA middle distance or distance runner to win two national titles on the same day at an outdoor national championship.
But Ihmels does not want the unprecedented possibility to weigh too heavily on Ostrander.
"She is so good and she does have a lot of pressure on her to be one of the top in the county. If you start to look at this as, 'I'm running for the team versus just running for yourself,' it takes a little bit of the pressure off of you," Ihmels said. "I think that's part of her thinking now, and that maybe wasn't her thinking when she came in. It speaks volumes to her as a person and how she's matured and understood that when she's out there, she's running for Boise State and to score as many points as she can."
Last season, Ostrander accounted for all 15 of Boise State's team points. The Broncos tied for 13th on the strength of her day alone.
She won't have to carry the load alone this week.
"We just have a really special group of girls ... that do a really good job of working together, and we've put a lot of time into trying to build a better team atmosphere this year," Ostrander said. "I think that that has helped us keep up the effort and diligence, because you have more to work for than just yourself."
Boise High grad qualifies in steeplechase
Emily Hamlin won 5A state titles in the 3,200, 1,600 and 800 meters as a junior and senior at Boise High.
Now a junior at the University of Washington, Hamlin is set to make her NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships debut.
The two-time Gatorade Idaho Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year will compete in the semifinals of the 3,000-meter steeplechase Thursday. Hamlin is slated to run in the second heat, which includes defending champion Allie Ostrander of Boise State.
The top five from each heat plus the next best two times advance to Saturday's final.
Hamlin took up the steeplechase for the first time this season and posted a 20-second personal best at the West Prelims to finish 11th overall and qualify for nationals. Her time of 10:00.35 is the third-fastest in program history.