More than 90 percent through the race, David Elliott realized his last shot at reaching nationals was slipping through his hands.
In the second heat of the 1,500 meters at the NCAA West Regionals on May 28 in Lawrence, Kan., a top-two finish was required to qualify for nationals — and Elliott was battling with two runners for the lead.
Making a push that only a senior hell-bent on one more chance at the biggest stage could have, Elliott put on the afterburners in the final 100 meters and finished with the biggest stretch he could muster. He crossed the line .007 seconds ahead of Stanford’s Justin Brinkley to take second, punching his ticket to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
“I was in a bad spot, wasn’t sure if I’d make it. ... It was like, ‘Elliott, how bad do you want it?’” he said.
Elliott will be joined at Hayward Field by teammates Brenna Peloquin (women’s 5,000 and 10,000 meters) and Minttu Hukka (women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase).
Elliott hopes his frantic finish carries into this week, after a season that has plenty of room for one more big-time finish. The 2015 Mountain West champion in the 1,500, he took second at the conference meet this season and was fourth at the Stanford Twilight on April 22.
Boise State coach Corey Ihmels said Elliott hasn’t been in a fast-paced pack yet, adding “he just hasn’t put one together yet. To me that’s exciting because I still think it’s there.”
“It’s kind of funny how much can change and how little can change,” said Elliott, who took eighth at nationals last year in the 1,500. “I felt like last year I came in with quite a bit of momentum, but under the radar a little bit. This year, under the radar, but things have been up and down.
“It’s a different kind of momentum — senior year, my last one.”
Rain fell throughout the first day at the West Regional in Kansas, and Peloquin was supposed to run the 10,000. Nerves are only made worse when forced to wait.
“It was the most stressful week of my life,” Peloquin said. “Every hour they pushed it back. Eventually I was told I’d race at 1 a.m. or 8 a.m. I was like, ‘Do I drink coffee and stay up or go to bed?’ I found out late that night it got moved to the morning, but I couldn’t sleep, woke up at 4:30. Somehow, it ended up going well.”
Peloquin said she “had nothing to lose” running in the 5,000 meters the next day after finishing seventh in the 10,000, earning the NCAA bid. She took fifth in the 5,000.
“It’s more than I expected. ... I never really said my goals out loud because I didn’t know what to expect, it being my first time at regionals, so I know I can set the bar high for myself,” Peloquin said.
Peloquin is the lone freshman in the 10,000 field and one of two freshmen in the 5,000.
“She’s really good, above and beyond what we thought when we recruited her,” Ihmels said. “She had that instinct of wanting to be really good, and I can’t coach that. Either you have it or you don’t, and I think she has it. ... She’s doing it as well as anybody I’ve had.”
Hukka’s success in the steeplechase is a new phenomenon at Boise State. She is the second Bronco woman to reach the national championships, joining Marisa Howard (2013, 2014, 2015).
The native of Finland ran the 3,000 meters in a season-best 10 minutes, 13.48 seconds in Lawrence, taking ninth. She won the 5,000 meters at the Mountain West’s indoor championships in the winter.
“I’m really happy to just get in, and I’d really like to get into the final, be an All-American,” Hukka said. “I like the steeplechase, it’s so different, it fits me pretty well. I know there haven’t been a lot from Boise State to make it in the event, but Marisa was great. I really look up to her. But I have some time to go for her school record, which I hope to break while I’m here.”
Howard’s top time of 9:37.84 last year at nationals was the sixth-fastest in NCAA history, so Hukka has a big goal in mind. She said she pushed herself more when Ihmels floated the idea of having her be a distance runner this outdoor season.
“I usually put that at them to get them to be a little more motivated to run the event they’re supposed to run. ... She’s gotten better at is as we’ve gone along,” Ihmels said. “Hopefully we’re sitting here a year from talking about trying to win the race.”
Idaho athletes at NCAAs
- 5:46 p.m.: David Elliott, Boise State, 1,500 meters (semifinal)
- 7 p.m.: Arphaxad Carroll, Idaho, long jump (final)
- 6:02 p.m.: Minttu Hukka, Boise State, 3,000-meter steeplechase (semifinal)
- 8:08 p.m.: Brenna Peloquin, Boise State; Kinsey Gomez, Idaho, 10,000 meters (final)
- 6:42 p.m.: Elliott, 1,500 meters (final)
- 5:54 p.m.: Hukka, 3,000-meter steeplechase (final)
- 6:25 p.m.: Peloquin, 5,000 meters (final)
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