NCAA track and field championships
The schedule for the Colorado Buffaloes athletes who will compete for national titles in Eugene, Ore. The competition begins Wednesday but CU does not hit the track until Thursday. All times MDT.
Thursday: Women's 3,000-meter steeplechase semifinals (Val Constien), 5:32 p.m.; Women's 800-meter semifinals (Elissa Mann), 6:44 p.m.; Women's 10,000-meter run final (Makena Morley, Erin Clark, Kaitlyn Benner), 7:38 p.m.
Friday: Men's 5,000-meter run final (Zach Perrin), 8:25 p.m.
Saturday: Women's 3,000-meter steeplechase final (Val Constien*), 4:54 p.m.; Women's 800-meter final (Elissa Mann*), 5:44 p.m.; Women's 5,000-meter final (Erin Clark).
*Must advance out of Thursday's semifinal to compete in championship heat.
For Erin Clark, the long and impressive journey will end exactly where it began.
Clark, however, prefers not to look at her final entry in the NCAA track and field championships as an ending. It's more like the final springboard toward what comes next.
When the NCAA championships begin on Wednesday, Clark, a decorated University of Colorado senior distance runner, will get an opportunity to represent the Buffaloes one last time in her hometown of Eugene, Ore. None of the Buffs will compete until Thursday's events, which features a women's 10,000-meter final that includes Clark along with teammates Makena Morley and Kaitlyn Benner.
"It's just exciting. I wouldn't say it's bittersweet for me at all," Clark said. "I've had just a great time here. I've really enjoyed everything. I'm super excited and love going home to Eugene. I have an incredible fan base there, and my family and friends are so awesome at coming out.
"I'm going to keep running after college so it doesn't really feel like the end. It feels like the next chapter."
Clark began her track career at CU as perhaps the heir apparent to the program's national dominance in the steeplechase, winning the event at the Pac-12 championships in 2015 while also finishing second in the 5K to earn the league's Freshman of the Year award. She finished sixth at the NCAA West preliminaries and 15th at nationals before adding a second Pac-12 steeplechase crown in 2016.
Clark ultimately shifted her focus to straight distance running, winning another Pac-12 title in the 10,000-meter run last year before finishing fifth at nationals, posting a time of 33 minutes, 3.22 seconds that, at the time, was a personal best. She also finished 11th at the NCAA cross country championships in 2015 while helping the Buffs to a runner-up finish in the team standings.
"My first couple years in outdoor I steeplechased, and the second year we really had a steeplechase focus because that year was the year of the (Olympic) trials and I thought I could hit the time," Clark said. "Then that next season I got injured in indoor and I was kind of running through it, but I was really banged up. It didn't make sense for me to go over any barriers and that's when we decided to do the 10K. It clicked really well and I just kind of transitioned from there."
Clark is the only athlete among the Buffs' six championship entrants who will compete in two events — she also will race in the 5,000-meter final on Saturday night — but it is Thursday's 10,000-meter final that could prove to be the highlight of the weekend for the Buffs. Clark, Morley, and Benner all topped CU's previous outdoor team record in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA West preliminaries, with Morley setting the new standard at 32:28.58. Clark finished just a fraction behind her teammate at 32:28.88, shaving nearly 35 seconds off her top time from just a year ago.
"I think what stands out about Erin is that she has been useful for us in all the disciplines — cross country, indoor, and outdoor," CU coach Mark Wetmore said. "She has been a leader, although she's not an overt leader. She doesn't grab the women by the scruffs of their neck and say, 'Come with me.' She's a leader in that she goes first and says, 'Let's go' and pulls them along with her.
"Her leadership, her consistency, and her optimism will be missed."