Sarah Bell and Courtney Clayton both earned NCAA First Team All-American status on Thursday night in Eugene, Ore., at the NCAA Track & Field National Championships. Athletes must finish in the top eight of their respective events in order to receive First Team All-American honors. It marks the first time that the Commodores have had multiple outdoor track & field All-Americans since 2004, when Josie Hahn and Erika Schneble earned the distinction in the heptathlon and 5000-meter run, respectively.
Bell's top height of the day was 13-7.25 (4.15m), which tied her for eighth overall. She cleared both of the first two bars at heights of 4.00 and 4.15 meters on her first attempt, which would prove to be the difference between First and Second Team All-American status due to tiebreakers. Bell came up just short on her third and final attempt at 4.30 meters, which would have set a new collegiate-best mark for her and tied her career-best height.
Clayton ran a time of 2:04.24 in the 800-meter run, which was the third-fastest time recorded in all three heats, with all of the top-three times coming in the third heat. She utilized a similar strategy in the race as she did in the NCAA Regionals, where she sat back in the first 400 meters before picking up the pace to finish strong on the back half of the race and earn qualification to the finals. Clayton will now race again on Saturday against seven other competitors for the 800-meter run crown at 6:45 p.m. (CT).
Quoting the coaches:
Assistant coach Donnie Young
On his thoughts about Courtney's race and the strategy heading into the meet:
"Courtney had a fantastic race! She executed the race perfectly. I wanted her to come through around mid 59-60 at the 400-meter mark and she did, and by doing so, she was right where she needed to be. She was in last place at the time but there was still 50 percent of the race left. We talked about not losing separation from the front pack and she continued to slowly work her way up. She waited for the right moment and she dropped the hammer with 100 meters to go and really brought it home."
On Courtney's work ethic and spirit: "The last two years have been difficult for her as she has battled injuries and got tripped twice at the NCAA Regionals, but she has always continued to fight. That's what I love about her - she's a fighter and she'll never quit."
On moving on to the finals on Saturday: "We're both excited to advance to the finals, but we're not finished yet. We still have one more race to go!"
Associate head coach Clark Humphreys On Sarah Bell's Performance:
"Sarah has had a banner year! She made indoor nationals and didn't quite perform up to her standards, so she's thrilled to have improved upon that by earning First Team All-American honors today. We didn't decide to use her last semester of outdoor eligibility until halfway through the season. The initial plan was to wait until next year and have a full season, but she was on such a roll that we didn't want to mess it up. She has been a model of consistency for our program and it was great to see her finish off her outdoor career this way. I can't say enough about how much Sarah has contributed to this program. I can't wait until next indoor season!"
Earlier in the week, Bell and Clayton both sat down and spoke about what it meant to them to advance to the NCAA Nationals meet, as well a few of their favorite things when they're not on the track: