Sarah Wittingen hurdles way to first place at championships
May 30, 2008
OSHKOSH, WI — Calvin College senior Sarah Wittingen realized a dream on the final day of the NCAA III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, winning the national title in the 400 meter hurdles with a school record time of 59.39.
The national championship was one of three All-America performances that the East Grand Rapids High School graduate was a part of on Saturday, helping the Calvin women's track and field team finish in 13th place with 19 points. Wittingen also placed seventh in the 100 meter hurdles (14.34) and led off Calvin's fifth place 4x400 meter relay team that clocked in with a season-best time of 3:46.73.
In winning the 400 meter hurdles title, Wittingen became the eighth individual in Calvin women's track and field history to win an individual national title. She also joined 1996 graduate Holly Breuker as one of two 400 meter hurdle national champions at Calvin as Breuker won the national title in the event in 1996.
Wittingen closes out her outdoor Calvin track and field career as a 10-time NCAA III All-American.
"I told myself coming in that I would be happy no matter what happened today," said Wittingen. "But one of my goals was to win a national championship and to reach that goal feels incredible."
A year ago, Wittingen took second in the 400 meter hurdles at the national meet - also held at J.J. Keller Stadium on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Running on the same track Saturday afternoon, Wittingen took an early lead and then fought off a charge from Frostburg State's Sumer Rohrs who began closing on Wittingen on the final turn. Wittingen fought off the challenge by ripping over the second-to-the-last hurdle and continued to create distance from the rest of the field by gliding over the final hurdle and racing across the finish line with a stadium record time.
"When I came around the final turn, I knew it was getting close and I told myself that there was no way I was going to let it slip away," said Wittingen. "This was my senior year and I was not going to let someone take first place away from me. Not at that point."
Wittingen's time of 59.39, lopped nearly a half-second off her previous school mark of 59.96 set at last year's national meet.
Wittingen entered the meet as the top seed in the 400 meter hurdles but slipped to the second seed behind Rohrs after Thursday's prelims. In the 100 meter hurdles, Rohr captured the national title with a wind-aided time of 13.68. Wittingen took seventh with a season-best time of 14.34.
In the women's 4x400 meter relay, Wittingen was joined by freshman Rachel Boerner (Bergenfield, NJ), junior Kristen VanSickel (Pittsburgh, PA) and sophomore Heather Koning (Kalamazoo Christian HS). The fifth place finish by the Calvin relay team marked the fifth straight year that Calvin claimed All-America accolades in the event. It also marked the 13th overall All-America berth in the relay in Calvin women's track and field history.
Heading into the national meet, the relay was seeded sixth. However, the relay qualified for the national meet with junior Lauren Bergstrom (Rochester, MN) as a member of the team. With Bergstrom running the 800 and 1500 meters at the national meet, it was decided to bring Boerner (under allowed NCAA rules) onto the relay as an alternate. Boerner responded in grand style, running splits of 57.0 flat in both the prelims on Thursday and in Saturday's finals.
"I am proud of all of our relay teams that have been All-Americans but this is the team that I am the proudest of," said seventh-head Calvin head women's track coach Dr. Jong-il Kim, "This relay team got the most out of its ability and showed courage and heart. With a new runner on the team, I was concerned about making it into the finals but this group responded to the challenge. They were great."
Kim also had words of praise for Wittingen's national championship performance in the 400 meter hurdles. "Sarah had great focus and preparation during her entire senior year," he said. "As a senior, it can be easy to be distracted by many things but she did not let that happen. She kept her focus on her school work and her running and today she became a national champion. She is very deserving of the honor."
~by Jeff Febus, Communications & Marketing