Ruskule Boosts NU Women into NCAA Lead

By NU Athletic Communications
Dace Ruskule used a clutch throw on her fifth of six attempts to win the NCAA women's discus title Friday.
Dace Ruskule used a clutch throw on her fifth of six attempts to win the NCAA women's discus title Friday.
Photo by Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The Nebraska women’s track and field team ended the third day of the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a share of the lead in the team race, as thee Huskers helped the squad compile 26 points. Junior Dace Ruskule was crowned a national champion, while juniors Priscilla Lopes and Kayla Wilkinson each added runner-up honors to propel NU into a first-place tie with Texas. The Husker men’s team currently ranks sixth with 19 points.

Ruskule won only the second NCAA women’s discus title in Husker history with a clutch throw of 180-10 on her fifth of six attempts. The Riga, Latvia, native trailed Rice’s Krystal Robinson in second place by less than one foot, but was able to take over the lead with her fifth spin. Alabama’s Beth Mallory later moved into second with a mark of 179-7 on her final attempt, but Ruskule was able to hold on to earn her first national title.

"It was a very hard competition today with so much pressure, because after I finally took the lead it would only take one throw for another girl to beat me," Ruskule said. "I hated to watch the other throws, and after each one I just had to thank God."

An Olympian for Latvia in 2004, Ruskule rebounded from a miserable first experience at the NCAA Championships suffered last year, when she struggled to the tune of a 133-9 throw and 27th-place finish. Her performance Friday placed her alongside teammate Becky Breisch as NU’s only NCAA champions for the women’s discus.

"I was hoping to win last year so badly that I just wasn’t mentally ready for it," she said. "I put way too much pressure on myself. I knew it would take at least two years (after she arrived at Nebraska) to get used to my new technique. Last year was so painful that I am just glad to finally win."

"Not once have we been in a situation this year where Dace didn’t come through," NU assistant coach Mark Colligan said. "I felt that if there was anyone in that field that could rise to the occasion with a late dramatic throw, she would be the one to do it."

Senior Priscilla Lopes once again did all she could in the final race of the women’s 100-meter hurdles, but for the fourth straight NCAA meet she finished runner-up in the quest for her second national title. The Whitby, Ontario, native broke her own school record for the second time this season with a blistering time of 12.60 to finish second behind USC’s Virginia Powell, who set the collegiate record for the second straight race with a incredible winning mark of 12.48. Lopes set the previous NU standard of 12.61 to win the Big 12 title three weeks ago.

"I got out of the blocks good, but (Powell) got out good, too," Lopes said. "She just ran a great race. Finishing second doesn’t feel bad this year. I just wanted to go out there and run a clean race. I felt that if I could improve my time I’d be more than happy. That’s all I could ask myself to do.

"To go out at the Big 12 (Championships) and break the school record, then come out here and break it again is special. Not many people can do that in the same year. To keep going out there and improving my time is a really positive feeling."

Lopes’ silver-medal finish capped another brilliant season for the eight-time NCAA All-American. She also earned second place earlier this year in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA indoor meet, while her current time ranks second among all hurdlers in the world to Powell.

The Husker women also gained a second national runner-up in Wilkinson, who became NU’s top NCAA finisher in the women’s javelin since Karyn Szarkowski in 1986 with a silver-medal finish on Friday. The Deshler, Neb., native recorded her top throw of 178-11 on only the second overall attempt of the competition to set the early tone. Air Force’s Dana Pounds followed with the winning mark of 184-0 and later added a launch of 190-3 on her final attempt to win her second straight national title.

"I wanted to set the field up with a big first throw," Wilkinson said. "I’ve tried to do that at every meet and haven’t really been successful, but I did it today. I was surprised I got such a good throw on my first attempt."

Wilkinson conquered the demons that haunted her from last year’s NCAA Championships, when she finished 14th despite ranking among the nation’s leaders as only a sophomore.

"I feel awesome placing second, especially from (last year’s finish). Last year I was ranked a lot higher than what I finished. I was really nervous for this meet because I wanted to finish up where I should. Second place is okay. I didn’t win, but Dana Pounds is a really good thrower."

The placing earned Wilkinson her first career NCAA All-America honor and put her in the favorite’s role entering her senior season.

"Kayla’s performance definitely catapults her into the spotlight for next year," Colligan said. "It was also a great experience for her to have in order to prepare for that type of role she will be in next year."

Senior Sara Jane Baker sits in good position following day one of the women’s heptathlon, as her 3,195 cumulative score currently ranks 12th among the field. Baker registered individual event marks of 14.81 in the 100-meter hurdles, 5-8 ¾ in the high jump, 37-3 ¼ in the shot put and 26.05 in the 200-meter dash. The high jump mark tied Bakers’ season-best performance, while her shot put fell only about one inch short. While both her hurdles and 200-meter times were a bit off, each race was run into headwinds.

The heptathlon concludes on Saturday at 10 a.m., as the long jump, javelin and 800-meter run have yet to be contested. Despite an average first day, Baker looks to be in good position to earn her first All-America honor in a combined events competition, as she trails the eighth-place position by only 60 points.

"I fell pretty confident sitting in 12th," Baker said. "Some of the marks I put up today were disappointing, but I have to bounce back. I usually have a stronger second day, and I wasn’t expecting to be sitting this high with the day I put together. I definitely feel confident going into tomorrow."

The Nebraska men’s team also had four athletes in action Friday, as senior Ray Scotten and sophomore Dusty Jonas added top-eight finishes for All-America honors.

Scotten earned fifth place in the men’s pole vault with a clearance of 17-10 1/2 for his fifth career NCAA All-American finish. Fortune seemed to be on the side of the Indianapolis, Ind., native during his final competition as a Husker, as he made each of his final two heights despite severely clipping the cross bar.

"It was a great way for me to go out," Scotten said. "I didn’t start to put things together until the end (of the competition), and even then I had a lot of lucky jumps. The bar just seemed to stay on at (17-6 ½) and then (on his final clearance) I hit it with every part of my body, but it stayed on. I guess it was just meant to be today."

Jonas finished fourth in the men’s high jump with a clearance of 7-3 ¾ for his fourth All-America placing in four opportunities. USC’s Jesse Williams won the competition with a leap of 7-7 ¼.

Junior Gable Baldwin, who also participated in the men’s pole vault final, did not register a place after failing to clear the opening height of 16-9. Meanwhile, junior Daniel Roper finished 14th during the men’s triple jump qualifying round with a leap of 50-5 ¼. Only 12 athletes reached the event finals.

The NCAA Outdoor Championships conclude Saturday, as the NU women will attempt to match or exceed their previous best outdoor team finish of third place (1983, 1989, 1991, 1992, 2004). Senior Becky Breisch will vie for top honors in the women’s shot put, while Baker will look to add her first career All-America finish in a combined events competition during the conclusion of the women’s heptathlon.

Saturday’s competition will air live on CBS beginning at 2:30 p.m. Central.

Current Team Scores
Women
1. Nebraska—26
-   Texas—26
3. Auburn—22
4. Arizona State—19
5. USC—16

Men
1. Arizona—28
2. Tennessee—26
3. Wisconsin—24
4. Virginia Tech—23
5. Arkansas—2
6. Nebraska—19

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