Racing to be crowned

Six SPU track and field athletes qualify for NCAA Championships

Jenna Bouyer competing in a past GNAC competition earlier this month. (Courtesy of Kyle Cajero)

The dream of any athlete is to reach the top. Whether that means a championship, a nomination, or an award, every athlete has a personal goal they aim to reach in their career. In high school, reaching the top usually means winning the state championship. It can also be when an athlete is scouted, or when they are named the most valuable player on their team.

In college, when an athlete is at the top of their game, it is expected that they will win championships, like the one held by the National College Athletic Association at the end of each collegiate season. 

Seattle Pacific University is no stranger to these types of tournaments and much to the joy of Falcon athletes, six members of the SPU track and field team have qualified for the 2022 outdoor NCAA Division II Championships. 

Five out of six of these athletes are from the women’s team and one of them is from the men’s team. This will be the most SPU athletes sent to the NCAA Championships since 2013 and 2016 when a total of eight Falcons qualified. 

The first event that the Falcons will compete in is the 4×100 race. The group of SPU athletes competing in this event will consist of senior sprinter Vanessa Aniteye, senior sprinter and jumper Peace Igbonagwam, senior sprinter Jenna and sophomore sprinter Aniya Green. 

Igbonagwam will lead the relay with Aniteye as the second leg. Green will act as the third leg and Bouyer will be the team’s anchor, the athlete to bring the team across the finish line. 

This relay team made school and conference history when they qualified for the event during the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships on Sunday, May 15, at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. Their qualifying time was 45.88 seconds. This time was a new personal record for the team as they beat their previous record of 46.30 seconds. 

They also broke the school record of 46.23 seconds set back in 2019, the meet record of 46.32 seconds and the overall conference record of 46.19 seconds set in 2017 by Simon Fraser University. 

Aniteye will also be competing in the women’s 400m dash at the NCAA championships for the fourth time in her collegiate career. Although Aniteye has not won an NCAA title, she has won four GNAC titles in the women’s 400m dash. Her most recent comes from the GNAC Championship meet on Sunday, May 15. Her other three titles were won from 2017 to 2019, while she attended the University of Alaska Anchorage. 

She is hoping that her fourth and final race will be the one that will bring her the title. She currently holds the school record of 54.60 seconds, the time which allowed her to qualify. Aniteye is one of three qualifying Falcons competing in multiple events. 

Igbonagwam will compete in the women’s long jump. Her current best is at 6.00m as of April 23, when she competed in the Wildcat Invitational in Ellensburg, Washington. 

This will be Igbonagwam’s first outdoor NCAA Championship meet, but it is not her first time making it to the national level. As a freshman, Igbonagwam placed an All-American sixth in the indoor NCAA meet in 2019. She also qualified alongside former teammate and distance runner Dania Holmberg in 2020, but was unable to compete because the meet was canceled due to rising concern of COVID-19. 

The fifth qualifying Falcon is Annika Esvelt, who will be competing in the women’s 10,000-meter run and 5,000-meter run. Esvelt’s qualifying time for the GNAC championship was 36:32.30 in the 10,000-meter, and her record for the 5,000-meter is 16:14.21. 

This is Esvelt’s second trip to the NCAA Division II Championships in 2022. She made her first appearance in the Indoor NCAA Championships in March of 2022 as the sole Falcon representing SPU at the event. She placed eighth in the 5000-meter run with a time of 16:31.12, which was fast enough to earn her the title of an All-American. 

The sixth qualifier is David Njeri, who will be competing in the men’s triple jump event. He is the first Falcon to represent the school in the men’s events since 2013. Njeri’s personal best currently stands at 15.81m. At the 2022 outdoor GNAC Championships, Njeri was hoping to claim his second title in the triple jump. Unfortunately, he was unable to compete in the event due to an injury sustained in his last attempt in the men’s long jump. 

He won his first title in the men’s triple jump in the outdoor season of 2021 at the GNAC Championships. 

As these six Falcons prepare and dream of the NCAA Championships, the team itself has been the recipient of multiple All-Academic Awards. Fourteen of the athletes have been named on the All-Academic team, including nine women and five men. 

Four of the athletes honored on this list are now three-time All-Academic track athletes. These Falcons include Aniteye, senior pole vaulters Madison Licari and Emily Northey and senior distance runner Kelsey Washenberger. The list also includes three athletes; Njeri, junior distance runner Libby Michael and sophomore pole vaulter Brad Bowman, who are all two-time All-Academic award recipients. 

The list also includes seven first-time All-Academic athletes. These athletes are Esvelt, Green, sophomore pole vaulter Lizzy Daughtery, sophomore distance runner Ellie Rising, senior distance runner Colin Boutin, sophomore pole vaulter Kainoa Lee and sophomore sprinter Darius Holmes. 

The NCAA Track and Fields Championships will be held from Thursday, May 26 through Sunday, May 28 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.