Triple victories at GNAC Championships

Track athletes climb onto NCAA provisional qualifying lists

Isabella Tranello, Sports Editor

Annika Esvelt ran her way to two GNAC titles. (Kyle Cajero)

The 2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships began on Friday, May 14, and continued through Saturday, May 15. On Friday, the Falcons were off to an explosive start as they zipped around the track and took full advantage of the opportunity in front of them. 

In the women’s 10,000-meter run, Seattle Pacific University took home the first of their three GNAC championships after sophomore distance runner Annika Esvelt swept the competition. She won the race decisively at 36.32:30, which was nearly two minutes before the second-place runner Kalen Belton from Northwest Nazarene University crossed the finish line. 

This was Esvelt’s first outdoor GNAC championship and her third overall. Her time made her an NCAA provisional qualifier. In February, she previously won two indoor championships at The Podium in Spokane, Washington in the 3000m and the 5000m runs. 

Esvelt also competed on Saturday in the women’s 5000m run and earned second place with a time of 17:14.07. 

Sophomore pole vaulter Lizzy Daughtery competed on Friday as well and came up just short of the win in the women’s pole vault event. Daughtery and the first-place athlete Kinsey Yenor from Northwest Nazarene University tied with a height of 3.65m, but Yenor ultimately got the win after a tiebreaker. Yenor had fewer misses than Daughtery. 

On the same day of the competition, senior jumper and sprinter Peace Igbonagwam also took home second place in the women’s long jump. She marked a final distance of 5.81m. However, this was not the highlight of Igbonagwam’s weekend. 

She and fellow relay team members senior sprinters Jenna Bouyer and Vanessa Aniteye, and sophomore sprinter Aniya Green, won the women’s 4×100 relay in 45.88. This time won them the GNAC title, broke three records, and put these athletes in the position to earn a spot in the NCAA Championships. 

They washed away the old SPU record of 46.32 seconds in this event that was set in 2019 by Bouyer, Igbonagwam, and former Falcons Grace Bley and Julia Stepper. They also set the new GNAC meet record of 46.32 seconds and broke the all-time conference record of 46.19 set in 2017 by Simon Fraser University. 

The women’s relay team was recognized at the end of the meet and honored with the award of Female Performance of the meet. The same squad of Falcon athletes also competed in the women’s 4×400 relay and placed second with an NCAA provisional qualifying time of 3:48.62. 

Igbonagwam also competed in the women’s 100m dash and the women’s 200m dash, where she took third and second place. In the women’s 100m dash, she placed third with a time of 11.97 seconds. She was only 20 seconds off of Bouyer’s second-place time of 11.77 seconds. 

Bouyer’s time put her on the list of NCAA provisional qualifiers and broke an SPU record. The previous record was 11.79 set in 1996 by Shevonne Colebrooke. She also broke her career-best of 11.92 by 15 seconds. 

In the women’s 200m dash, Ibonagwam switched places with Bouyer and ran to a second-place finish with a time of 24.33 seconds. Bouyer finished third in 24.35 seconds. Both women were placed on the NCAA provisional qualifying list for their times. 

The Falcons’ third and final GNAC title was won by Aniteye in the women’s 400m dash as she crossed the finish line in 54.62 seconds. This was Aniteye’s fourth GNAC title in the women’s 400m dash. She won her first three titles in 2017-2019 at the University of Alaska Anchorage before she transferred to SPU. She also became an NCAA provisional qualifier for this event. 

On the men’s side of the meet, freshman sprinter Isaiah Archer competed in his first-ever GNAC Championship meet and took home third in the men’s 400m dash. He completed the race in 48.88 seconds and has shown that he was prepared for the high-level competition. Archer’s performance was that of a veteran competitor. 

Sophomore pole vaulter Kainoa Lee also put on an expert performance in his respective event as he launched himself to a third-place finish. His final height of 4.53m was tied with Western Washington’s Kacey Provo. This also marked a new personal best for Lee that beat his previous best of 4.52m. 

To round out the successful weekend of competition for the Falcons, junior jumper and sprinter David Njeri bounded down the runway in the men’s long jump to clear a distance of 6.98m. This distance earned Njeri fourth place. 

Following the GNAC Championships, the women’s team was fourth overall with 109 points and the men were ninth with 29.5 points. 

Now, the Falcons’ regular outdoor season has come to a close. However, the athletes who made the NCAA provisional qualifying list will be anxiously seeing if they have landed an official spot in the NCAA Division II Championships beginning on Thursday, May, 26, and ending on Saturday, May 28. 

If these select Falcons make it onto the final list, they will be traveling to Allendale, Michigan to compete for yet another title to bring back to Seattle. The list of final qualifiers will be announced on Tuesday, May 17. The time for the announcement has not been posted yet.