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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships and before a crowd of 11,344, Dartmouth senior Abbey D’Agostino stepped out on the Hayward Field track in her quest to win her third consecutive outdoor 5000 meter championship.  A victory in the 5000 meter title race would earn the Ivy League distance star her 8th individual NCAA championship – just one title shy of the NCAA women’s track & field and cross country career record total of nine, shared jointly between Suzy Favor-Hamilton and Sally Kipyego.

As the race got underway and the 5K final began to unfold, Butler junior Mara Olson stepped up to take on the pacing chores with Michigan State frosh Rachele Schulist on her elbow.  Just behind the leading duo, pre-race favorite Abbey D'Agostino was tucked in comfortably among a small cluster of racers – which included Stanford junior Aisling Cuffe and Texas senior Marielle Hall.  In the race's middle laps with about 8 circuits remaining, the pace increased significantly as Cuffe went to the front – a move that was immediately covered by Hall and D'Agostino.  The surging trio soon distanced themselves from the others – making it clear that they would be the top three finishers.  Only the precise order of finish remained in doubt.   With Cuffe forcing the tempo, the 7-time national champion soon began showing the race strain as she struggled to stay in contact with the Stanford and Texas athletes – both of whom were handling the increased pace with less effort.  Cuffe never threw down the big move, but remained content to slowly tighten the screw during the long kick she was unfurling.  With a kilometer to go, Cuffe still couldn't shake her Longhorn competitor, but her sustained drive was taking its toll on D'Agostino who was beginning to lose contact.    Before the leaders hit the bell lap, it became clear that D'Agostino's quest for an 8th individual NCAA title was in shambles.  Hall, looking the more comfortable of the two, continued to shadow Cuffe as the Stanford junior launched off on the final circuit.  On the final backstretch, Hall – unable to contain herself any longer – uncorked a powerful kick, drove past Cuffe, and soon established a clear margin she rode all the way to the line.  Hall’s final 400 – covered in 63.6 seconds – propelled her across the finish line in 15:35.11.  Cuffe – who did the lion's share of the pacing work – crossed second in 15:37.74 and the two-time defending champion held on for 3rd in 15:43.54.

Hall, a jubilant victor, acknowledged that Cuffe’s mid-race tempo increase was a critical competitive moment.  “It [the pace] definitely picked up.  But I told myself before the race not to relax too much because I knew that was going to happen.  Someone was going to take it at some point.”  But the Texas athlete was ready for the up tempo move.  “If you are in the mindset that something is coming, then you don’t feel it as much.  That was the mindset I went in with, and I was ready for it.”

Hall, a New Jersey native, was also ready for the endgame.  “I wanted to wait until 250 to go, but I jumped a little early.  But I was just excited; I felt good.  If I felt good, I knew I could hold a strong finish.  With a little bit more than 400 meters to go, I started to see where everyone was, kind of test and see how everyone was feeling.  And if I had it, then go.  And if I didn’t, save a little to go again, because those girls are definitely strong competitors so you know they have a lot to come with.”

Many were surprised by Hall’s championship run.  The winner was not.  “I’ve been feeling really good since cross country and just haven’t had a race that would allow me to show that,” offered Hall who earlier this season lowered her 5000 meter PR to 15:19.26.  “So to be able to come out here and have it come together, I am obviously really excited,” Hall explained.  And with a smile she added, “I knew I had it in me.”

D’Agostino, subdued in defeat, was able to put her final collegiate race in perspective. “Of course it was my goal to go out there and defend my title.  It really picked up with two miles to go and it kinda hit me,” she explained , referencing Cuffe’s mid-race tactic.  “I tried my best to ride it out for as long as I could.  I was really feeling it.  I think that was all I had today.  Of course I am disappointed, but I think I gave everything my body had.  I can’t be too upset if that is what I had today.  Marielle is an excellent runner and she did a great job today and so did Aisling.”  A realist, D’Agostino knows track & field has its up and downs.  “You’ve got to roll with it.  That’s the sport.”

D’Agostino, while coy about specifics, has earlier made it clear that competitive running will be part of her post-collegiate life in some form or another.  “I am just taking it in today, enjoying my last time representing Dartmouth,” D’Agostino when asked about her post-collegiate running plans.  “I am going to make that decision in the next couple days.”  Just as she runs her races in accordance with a carefully-assembled racing strategy, count on the bright, articulate Ivy League graduate to craft a thoughtful professional running vision that works for her.

Looking back on her collegiate career, D’Agostino knows how she’d like to be remembered: “Just representing the potential of an Ivy League athlete.  There is a lot asked of us.  And I feel I was both a student and an athlete at the same time,” the Dartmouth graduate offered.  “I just learned a lot about advocating for myself and asking a lot of myself, leaning on those around me.  I really had to learn that.  I am excited to take that and apply it to the next stage.”

Track & field aficionados will long remember the distinguished collegiate career of Abbey D’Agostino .  But Marielle Hall’s decisive and unexpected NCAA 5000 meter victory here – denying the Dartmouth star her 8th national crown – will also be recalled for years to come.

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.