While Ashley Beutler appeared to get stronger as the laps wore on in Thursday's 3000 steeplechase semifinal, she claimed to be working simply to stay put.
As she should have. Beutler worked hard to gain that ground in the first place, using a well-timed move to slide into fifth place and position herself to advance to the final at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The Wisconsin senior did more than hold steady, improving on her own school record with a run of 10 minutes, 3.68 seconds that will have her racing Saturday for a spot on the podium in her final collegiate race.
"It opened up with about three laps to go and I knew I needed to make some sort of move," said Beutler, who lowered the school standard to 10:04.02 just two weeks ago in Austin, Texas.
Colorado's Emma Coburn -- a 2012 Olympian and the 2011 NCAA champion -- made it a one-woman race from the start, and as the field spread out, Beutler slid back into eighth place. She soon picked off seventh and sixth, but it was fifth place she had to keep her eye on.
The top five finishers in each of the two semifinal sections advanced automatically to Saturday's final.
"I noticed they were falling off that pack so I could pick them off," Beutler said. "Thankfully that worked out in my favor."
Beutler showed the savvy of an experienced racer when she recognized the time had come to make her move with two laps to go, and she set out to cover the gap between her and the chase pack that ran ahead. It didn't take long to make up the ground and take over fifth place heading onto the homestretch with 500 meters to go.
Then it was a matter of hanging on.
"I peeked a couple of times," said Beutler, who was being chased by West Virginia's Jordan Hamric. "I didn't know if I was going to have to dig in a little deeper than I already was.
"There was no letting up."
Now, she'll race for All-America honors in the 12-woman final at 4:57 p.m. (CT) on Saturday.
"I'm going to get in there this time," Beutler said. "Go for it and see what happens."
Beutler wasn't the only one to position herself on Thursday, as the combined events duo of senior Dorcas Akinniyi and Deanna Latham both put in solid days to set the stage for Friday's finish in the heptathlon.
Akinniyi heads into the final day of the heptathlon -- and her final day of competition for the Badgers -- in sixth place with a four-event score of 3,500 points. It's the fourth time in Akinniyi's career that she has amassed at least 3,500 points on the first day of a heptathlon.
The performance also has Akinniyi in position to make it 4-for-4 for her career on Friday. Qualifying for the NCAA heptathlon in each season of eligibility, Akinniyi can secure a fourth All-America honor in the event if she hangs on for a top-eight finish.
Bookended by personal-best efforts in the 100 hurdles and 200 meters, Latham put together a first day that saw her score 3,309 points to stand 18th.
In Akinniyi and Latham, the Badgers qualified multiple athletes to the NCAA heptathlon for the third-consecutive year, becoming just the second program to achieve that feat in the 32-year history of the event. Washington State had multiple NCAA heptathlon qualifiers from 2005-07.
The teammates got off on the right foot in the day's first event, with Latham running the fastest time of her career and Akinniyi finishing just off her all-time best in the 100 hurdles.
Latham topped the school record she set just two weeks ago with a wind-legal run of 13.37 seconds. That mark lasted about four hours, as Latham squeezed in an appearance in the semifinals of the open 100 hurdles just before concluding the first day of the heptathlon.
She knocked a full tenth off her own newly-minted mark with an impressive run of 13.27 seconds that earned her sixth in her heat and 16th overall.
In the last month, Latham has recorded the top three-- and five of the top six -- fastest times in school history. That doesn't even include the windy 13.15 she ran that serves as UW's all-time best under any conditions.
Akinniyi ran a time of 13.81 -- just one hundredth off her lifetime best -- that had her 13th after the first event of the day.
She vaulted to seventh in the standings -- and was just 13 points of personal-best pace through two events -- with a strong effort in the high jump that saw her clear 5-8 3/4. Latham, meanwhile, took a slide after managing to clear just 5-0 1/2.
Things got even better for Akinniyi in the shot put, with her effort of 43-1 propelling her to second in the overall standings. She entered the day's final event -- the 200 meters -- trailing Alcide by just 65 points for the lead.
Akinniyi turned in a time of 25.48 to cap her day in the 200 meters, but Latham went out with a bigger bang by clocking a time of 24.31 -- the best all-conditions mark of her career.
The duo are the only Badgers in competition Friday. The heptathlon resumes at 2:30 p.m. (CT) with the long jump, followed by the javelin and 800 meters.
Neither senior Taylor Smith nor sophomore Kelsey Card was able to make the final round of throws in the discus on Thursday, with Smith finishing 11th overall and Card taking 17th place.
Card threw 164-4 on her only legal throw of the competition, while Smith improved on her initial effort of 174-0 with a mark of 175-10 on her third and final throw. The toss moved Smith up one spot from 12th to 11th, but left her 11 inches short of making the final.
Smith will be back in competition Saturday in the shot put.