Aouani wins Southland indoor 5,000 title

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lamar sports information

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It was a strong start on the first day of the Southland Conference Indoor Championships for the Lamar track and field teams, capped off by two distance medley championships Monday at the Birmingham CrossPlex.

The 5,000-meter event got the Cardinals off of the ground quickly with 21 of their 31 points on the day, mostly sitting on the championship run from Iliass Aouani, his first of the day. Aouani garnered first-team All-Southland Conference honors for his 14:16.51 run to win the 5K and again after he anchored the distance medley team to winning run of 9:59.20, the third best DMR time in school history and best since 2014.

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“Illias had a great today.  He had the opportunity to be a part of two championships and go for a third [today] with the 3K,” said head coach Trey Clark. “He looks great and is running so well.  He told me today that the DMR was his first relay run, and he loved it.  He’s running with poise and grace, and is a cool customer that doesn’t get rattled.”

Behind him in the 5K was Alex Dunbar for second place, second-team all-conference honors, and eight points to the total. He crossed right behind Aouani at 14:17.81.  Both packed together for most of the race and laid behind runners from Stephen F. Austin before making a move to take over with a little more than 400 meters to go in the race.

Gabriel Steffensen earned three points for Big Red after he took sixth place on a 14:32.33 time.

Joining Aouani on the championship DMR team was Tobias Riker, Damerian Toliver and Stu Ferguson, and both Riker and Ferguson also claimed a spot in the finals of the mile run. Ferguson was the fastest qualifier for the finals on a 4:14.19 time and Riker was right behind him on a 4:14.56 time. Freddie Gasbarri also staked claim to a spot in the mile finals after he was the sixth place qualifier on a 14:15.45 time.

“We did everything we were supposed to do and picked every point I felt like we should.  We feel like the men came through today have a chance to do something big tomorrow,” said Clark. “The women had some big performances today. Deja (Phillips) came through when we needed her, and we talked that we needed someone to come through.  We needed that person who could help put us over the top, and she was that person today.”

Phillips and the women’s distance medley team scored 16 of the women’s 19 points on the first day. Phillips earned All-Southland Conference distinctions after her third-place and personal best mark of 18 feet, 8.5 inches for six points in the long jump. Thai Williams, who also qualified for today’s final in the 60 meters, added three more points on an 18-4.25 jump that gave her sixth place.

Phillips joined LU’s performances list in the long jump at fourth place, and Williams’ 7.62 time in the 60 placed her at sixth in the event.

The women’s distance medley, made of Alexandra Sokolova, Sarah Shim, Georgia Tuckfield and Verity Ockenden, earned 10 more points for LU after they crossed in 11:47.28, the second-best time in Lamar history. Sokolova, Tuckfield and Ockenden all also qualified for a spot in the finals of individual events.

Both Tuckfield and Ockenden qualified in the women’s mile, Tuckfield on a 5:05.88 and Ockenden a 5:00.85 time. Tuckfield registered her collegiate best with run. Sokolova was the third-place qualifier in the women’s 800 meters after her 2:12.81 time, the same event that saw Nathan Gillis earn a fastest qualifier mark on the men’s side (1:53.08). Gillis’ time was the best of his early collegiate career.

Brendan Langley qualified for the finals in two events, the 60 and 200 meter dashes. He was the fastest qualifier in the 200 with a 21.41 mark, and moves on to Tuesday with a time of 6.85 in the 60.

“Langley looked great today and put himself in a great position to do something huge for us tomorrow,” said Clark.

“The performers that we rely on did the job, and we’re looking for some people to step up tomorrow,” he said. “We have a chance, and that is all you can hope for after the first day.  We really just need people to perform.”

After day one, Sam Houston sits atop both the men’s and women’s team standings, tied with Stephen F. Austin in the men’s.  The Bearkats have a commanding lead on the women’s side at 50 points, 16 points better than Abilene Christian’s second-place 34 points. The men’s race is much tighter with three teams within seven points of the leaders.

Along with all the final events, the Cardinals have a chance to make a push with the 3000-meter run and men’s triple jump. Ten Cardinals will race in the 3K and while Michael Lester, Brian O’Bonna and Tylen Guidry will vie for a title in the triple jump.

The championships conclude today, which starts at 8:30 with the resumption of the heptathlon events.  Field events will kick off at 11:00 and running events approximately at noon. The awards ceremony is slated for 4:30, which will conclude the indoor championships.

The meet’s second day will be streamed live on the Southland Conference Digital Network, available or and at the Southland Conference app.