LA CROSSE, Wis. — Colby College junior Sophie Stokes Cerkvenik ran the race of her life at the right time and she is now a national champion.
Stokes Cerkvenik of Britt, Minn., ran a blazing 14.06 seconds to win the 100-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division III Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.
“It didn’t feel like my best race, but you are going against the best hurdlers in the country and I knew the time had to be pretty good,” Stokes Cerkvenik said. “It’s an amazing feeling and I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity.”
Call it a perfect two days for first-time All-American Stokes Cerkvenik, who had the top preliminary time of 14.50 on Friday. Knowing she would have to run faster in the championship final, Stokes Cerkvenik was up to the task.
“Our goal yesterday was to win the heat and qualify for the final and in turn she had the best preliminary time,” Colby head coach Dave Cusano said. “This morning we had the mind-set that we were back to zero and she needed to forget about Friday. She needed to go out today and just compete.”
Stokes Cerkvenik held the school record at 14.34, a mark she set at the MIT last chance meet. She went into the NCAA meet as the 11th seed and proved she was a championship contender with the prelim finish.
The top three in the event were all from New England schools. Jayci Andrews of Bridgewater State was second in 14.14 and Annie Woolley of Fitchburg State placed third in 14.16. All nine finishers were below the 14.50 preliminary time by Stokes Cerkvenik on Friday.
Stokes Cerkvenik started in lane six and had a solid but not spectacular start to the race. However, she quickly picked up ground and was in first place after the sixth of 10 hurdles. Stokes Cerkvenik just needed to go clean over the final four hurdles to win the title and she succeeded.
“The start wasn’t her best and neither were the first few hurdles, but hurdles six, seven, and eight might have been her best three hurdles all season,” Cusano said. “We talk that magic happens at hurdle seven. Many people think you need to be first at the first hurdle, but by the seventh hurdle you pretty much know where the race stands.”
Stokes Cerkvenik put her hands to the back of her head shortly after crossing the finish line, but kept her eyes on the scoreboard to make it official that she had won a national title. After the results went up, she clapped and crouched down in celebration before accepting congratulations from the other competitors.
Cusano was a hurdler and sprinter at the University of Maine during his college days. His coaching and support over the past three years was not lost on Stokes Cerkvenik.
“I credit so much of this to his coaching,” Stokes Cerkvenik said. “The way Dave coaches, you always feel prepared.”
Cusano was able to give Stokes Cerkvenik her medal on the podium. The head coach of the winning athlete handed out the awards to the top eight finishers.
Stokes Cerkvenik becomes the sixth varsity athlete in Colby athletics history to win an individual national title. Jamie Brewster won the hammer throw in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Dom Kone sprinted to a win in the 60-meter dash at the 2012 indoor nationals and won the 100 dash at the 2012 outdoor meet. Abbi Lathrop won the giant slalom in skiing, Cindy Pomerleau was the heptathlon champion for women’s track and field in 1997, and Todd Coffin captured the steeplechase for men’s outdoor track and field in 1983. Colby’s women’s crew won the national title in 2003.