SPU takes home five GNAC titles

Titles captured, records broken

Isabella Tranello, Sports Editor

Senior Peace Igbonagwam (sprints, long jump, and triple jump) flies through the air during the long jump. (Rio Giancarlo)

The Falcons stepped into The Podium in Spokane, Washington on Monday, Feb. 21, hoping to achieve the dreams they imagined all season long; dreams of becoming a champion. The achievement of these dreams was within reach of every Seattle Pacific University track and field athlete, all they had to do was win. 

Winning their respective events would be no easy task and would require beating the best athletes in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. If they wanted to call themselves a GNAC champion, they would have to put all their heart into winning. 

Not all the Falcon athletes competing were able to grab ahold of their dreams during the two-day competition, but four athletes grabbed on tightly and came out on top. 

One of those athletes was senior sprinter and jumper Peace Igbonagwam. She went into the first day of the meet a two-time defending GNAC champion in the women’s long jump. Her first win in the long jump was as a freshman in 2019 and her second was as a sophomore in 2020. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions in the 2020-2021 school year, athletes were not able to compete in the indoor track season and therefore Igbonagwam was unable to defend her title. 

However, in the 2021-2022 season, Igbonagwam came back with a hunger to win and successfully defended her title. She won the long jump for the third time in a row. Ibonagwam won with a distance of 5.51 meters. 

She is only the second Falcon to win three championships in the long jump in SPU history. The other is former track and field star Ali Worthen, who graduated in 2012. 

Sophomore distance runner Annika Esvelt keeps pace with the competition at the UW invite. (Rio Giancarlo)

Sophomore Annika Esvelt was another Falcon athlete who was crowned a champion. She did not just take home one title, she took home two. Esvelt went into the indoor season without any experience on an indoor track and ended the season with broken records, national rankings, and conference titles. 

Her first win of the event was in the women’s 5000-meter run where she clocked a finishing time of 17:31.71. Esvelt kept a steady pace during the long 25 lap race and pushed through the exhaustion to pull ahead of second-place runner from the University of Western Oregon’s Caitlin Heldt to gain the monumental victory. 

Esvelt did not stop there. 

On the second day of the meet on Tuesday, Feb. 22, Esvelt claimed her second championship in the women’s 3000-meter run. There was no stopping Esvelt in this race as she won decisively with a time of 9:50.84. She was nearly 15 seconds ahead of the second-place winner from Simon Fraser University Olivia Willet. Following the championships, Esvelt was named the Female Track Athlete of the Meet. 

Freshman Charlie Hill, who just joined the team in January, claimed her first title as a Falcon. Hill is a pole vaulter who has never competed in a collegiate championship but rose to the occasion and beat out all other competitors. Her winning height was 3.68 meters. 

Hill took the win in the women’s pole vaulting event, but sophomore Lizzy Daughtery also competed and took third place with a personal record height of 3.53 meters. 

Junior David Njeri (jumps and hurdles) leaps through the air in the triple jump. (Rio Giancarlo)

The last Falcon to win a GNAC title was junior sprinter and jumper David Njeri. He is the current defending champion of the outdoor men’s triple jump title from the 2020 season. 

Njeri became both the indoor and outdoor triple jump champion on the second day of the meet. A distance of 14.28 meters solidified the second championship win of his collegiate career. 

The triple jump champion also competed in the men’s long jump but was unable to come out with a win. Njeri placed third with a distance of 6.48 meters. 

Although only four SPU athletes came out on top, many other athletes had exceptional performances over the two-day event. 

Sophomore pole vaulter Kainoa Lee charges down the runway. (Rio Giancarlo)

Sophomore men’s pole vaulter Kainoa Lee has been working hard all season to improve his performance and reach new heights. Lee continued to refine his skills at every meet he has competed at in the 2021-2022 indoor season, but Lee hit a new peak at the GNAC Championships. 

Lee left the event in fourth place and earned himself a new personal record of 4.45 meters. He did not win, but his persistence and training are working in his favor. 

Additionally, two other runners on the SPU team scored within the top three in their respective events. In the women’s 200-meter dash, senior sprinter Jenna Bouyer took third place with a finishing time of 25.37 seconds. The other Falcon to fall just out of reach of the winner’s podium was sophomore distance runner Ellie Rising. 

Rising ran in the women’s 800-meter run and took second place. Her second-place time of 2:14.81 was only nine seconds off of the winning runner from Simon Fraser Alison Andrews-Paul’s time of 2:05.09. 

Neither the men nor women won the GNAC Championship, the women’s team ended in fifth and the men ended in seventh place. 

However, many athletes proved that all the hard work and grueling practices of the season were worth it. They now can proudly call themselves GNAC champions and triumphantly celebrate their wins with their teammates.