June 9, 2007
Nicole Leach concluded the collegiate season on Saturday with the first NCAA title of her career (and the second crown for a Bruin) at the 2007 NCAA Track & Field Championships as she won the 400m hurdles in a lifetime-best of 54.32 (old best, 55.35). The 4x400m relay team raced to a surprising 4th-place finish as the Bruins placed fifth in the team competition with 30 points.
Leach, who had ran the fastest qualifying times in the first and semifinal rounds of the hurdles easily seemed to have the title in hand, as she led from nearly start to finish. Her time of 54.32 moves her to No. 3 all-time in Pac-10 history and all-time at UCLA. The mark also moves her into the No. 3 spot in the U.S. and top-10 in the world this season.
Saturday's win gives Leach an undefeated season in the hurdles as she captured first against the Trojans, at Pac-10's, at West Regionals and at the NCAA Championships.
She joins an elite group of Bruin hurdlers who have won the 400m hurdles crown - Sheena Johnson ('04, '03), Joanna Hayes ('99), Janeene Vickers ('91,'90, `89).
On her hurdles race
"I knew I was going to go under 55 seconds for sure, but didn't think I would go 54.30. I feel great and I'm so happy to win. I was really nervous before the race, but I just tried to focus on each hurdle and stay in it. I felt like the LSU girl got a lead over the sixth or seventh hurdle, but I knew I could finish strong."
On the relay race
"I knew that the other teams had some excellent quarter-milers as their anchors, so I knew that the worst I could do was stay where I was when I got the baton. We were going for top-three, and although we didn't get that, I'm happy with a PR and a fourth-place finish. This group of girls has continued to PR week after week and I know next year, big things will happen."
The 4x400m relay team of Johanna Monthe, Maris Wisdom, Krystin Lacy and Leach blazed to fourth-place behind a huge season-best run of 3:30.46. That time moves them to No. 7 all-time in UCLA history. On Thursday, in the semifinal rounds, the Bruins ran a then- season-best of 3:31.52, a time that ranks ninth all-time in Bruin history.
Head Coach Jeannette Bolden
On Leach's win
"Nicole did an excellent job today. She ran a fantastic race. She messed up over the 10th hurdle, but when you're out in front, you have to just charge through and finish strong. It's good to see how Nicole has matured in the hurdles from last year to this year. I'm so excited for her."
On the team's fifth-place finish
"I couldn't be happier to finish in fifth. Nobody thought we would finish this high. Everyone pegged us for 10th, 11th or 12th and it's just great to prove everybody wrong. We got two National Champions and a fourth-place finish in the relay, and that's huge.
On the relay race
"We came into this race with no one thinking that we could finish so high, and these girls ran huge PR's during the meet. The girls came together to solidify the relay. It's what we're all about. We come on late and do our best when it counts. I'm so proud right now."
Maris Wisdom on the relay race
"When I got the baton I just remembered what Bobby (Kersee) told me - to focus on getting over the first 160m, and not letting anyone move up on me. It was all about executing today and we did that. It just shows how hard we've worked and the dedication we have. I feel great because this is my first All-American honor."
In all, the Bruins had six athletes earn All-American honors - Rhonda Watkins (1st, long jump/5th, high jump), Ingrid Kantola (8th, pole vault), Nicole Leach (400m hurdles/4x400m relay), Johanna Monthe (4x400m relay), Krystin Lacy (4x400m relay) and Maris Wisdom (4x400m relay).
Arizona State won the team title with 60 points, while LSU (49), Michigan (36), Texas A&M (34) and UCLA (30) round out the top-five teams.