Wallace earns NCAA All-American honors at indoor track and field national championships

Marshall Hampson

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Three indoor track and field athletes from Sacramento State competed March 12-13 and one was named an NCAA All-American at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at Fayetteville, Ark.

Juniors Lea Wallace, Renisha Robinson and Ronald Brookins all made their first appearance at the indoor meet after making it to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field championships during the outdoor season last year.

Wallace became the first female Sacramento State athlete to earn NCAA All-American indoor honors at the championships, placing eighth overall in the 800-meter run.

Athletes are named NCAA All-Americans in track and field by the NCAA and the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. If the athlete places in the top eight of his or her event, he or she will automatically be named an NCAA All-American.

The eighth-place finish of 2:13.97 also put Wallace down as the first Hornet to ever score points at an indoor championship meet. Wallace was one of the top eight finishers who were awarded points.

“I’m really happy with my performance even though I didn’t make it onto the podium. Making it into the finals was my goal,” Wallace said. “Everyday in practice you always have (making the NCAAs) in the back of your mind.”

Wallace finished with the fifth-fastest time in the opening heats on March 12 and said she had to deal with a quick start at the finals.

Head coach Kathleen Raske said the pace of the race started faster than expected and Wallace had to move up from the back of the pack. Wallace performed well despite missing the Big Sky Championships.

Wallace faced adversity and family matters at an inconvenient time in the season. She found out her father had a heart attack and took time off school and track for two weeks in late February to be with her family. Wallace also missed the Big Sky Championship meet, which would have given her a chance to automatically qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships earlier on in the season.

“I was at risk to get knocked off,” Wallace said. “When I came back from school, it was more just mental and getting the confidence back. You can’t just run like an All-American overnight. That takes seasons of training, so for me it was just getting my confidence back.”

Raske said she was impressed with Wallace’s composure at the NCAA Indoor Championships and the last two months of the season.

“Lea is certainly a national-class athlete and this experience for her was a good one, even though things didn’t quite go her way,” Raske said. “Lea is very special. She didn’t go to the conference championship meet and she’s able to overcome quite a bit this season.”

Robinson finished fifth in her heat in the preliminary round with a time of 2:08.71. The time was her second fastest mark in the 800-meter run this season and placed her 16th overall in the meet. She was just three and a half seconds away of the last qualifying time of 2:05.27.

“I was disappointed I didn’t make finals and I should’ve done better,” Robinson said. “I guess I don’t take it for granted because many people don’t make it to the NCAAs. Next year, I want to make the finals and be in the top five.”

Despite not making the finals in the 800, Raske said she was pleased with Robinson’s run and her growth over the season.

“She definitely made a step forward and she’s able to control her race,” Raske said. “She races with a lot of strategy and it’s good to see her finally doing that after a couple years of struggling.”

Wallace said she was happy that Robinson was able to qualify and travel with her to the NCAA Indoor Championships.

“It’s a lot of fun having a teammate every step of the way with you and having both of us qualify for the meet instead of just me,” Wallace said. “We’re kind of like sisters. We literally spend every day together being track athletes and having the same schedule.”

On the men’s side, Brookins was the only male from Sac State to make the NCAA championships. Brookins broke his own school record in the 60-meter hurdles, which he previously set at the Husky Classic meet on Feb. 13 (7.97) with a time of 7.84 seconds. This was also the 13th fastest time in the meet.

However, a new school record was not enough to move him into the finals, as he missed out by .04 seconds.

“It was a great experience competing with great athletes this meet,” Brookins said. “I expected it to be tough and that I had to perform my best. I was glad I broke the school record again. I was just glad to be at the NCAAs.”

With one of the top 15 times in the nation in the 60-meter hurdles, Brookins said he has mixed feelings about being considered a top runner.

“I like that everybody is watching me now but there’s a lot more pressure to do your best,” Brookins said. “I like being the underdog a lot more because you don’t have all that pressure on you. It’s a bittersweet feeling.”

Raske said Brookins ran his best at the biggest meets.

“He made up his mind that he was going to execute his best at the end of the season,” Raske said. “Ronald just continues to improve every race and wants to be on the podium.”

The Hornets are focusing on the outdoor season and are trying to get back into the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the second year in a row.

Raske said the last meet of the season was important for the three athletes, all whom made an impact on a national level.

“It was a great representation of our program and it put the program on the board,” Raske said. “All three of them handled themselves really well at the meet.”

Marshall Hampson can be reached at mhampson@statehornet.com