June 8, 2012
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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The last time three athletes from the same school qualified for the NCAA championships heptathlon Wisconsin's trio of heptathletes had yet to be exposed to the event.
The last time a school placed three athletes in the top 10 at the NCAA championships Dorcas Akinniyi, Jessica Flax and Deanna Latham were barely walking -- or not even born yet.
Well-versed in the seven-discipline event now, the Badgers' threesome made history Friday at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships by becoming just the third trifecta of teammates to score top-10 finishes in an NCAA heptathlon.
Flax led the charge with a fourth-place finish, grabbing All-America honors for the second-straight year along with Akinniyi, who took eighth to become an All-American for the third-consecutive season. Latham, in her NCAA championships debut, tied for 10th in the final standings.
"I'm speechless. I can't believe we did that," Latham said. "This year has been already so amazing and to end it on this note I couldn't have asked for more.
"I'm so proud of all of us."
Flax smashed her own school record by tallying 5,826 points, a total that also surpassed the automatic qualifying standard for the upcoming 2012 USA Olympic Trials and assures the senior of a trip to Eugene, Ore., later this month.
Akinniyi, who was sixth last year and finished fifth as a redshirt freshman in 2010, racked up a personal-best 5,772 points that keeps he ranked No. 2 all-time at UW.
Latham smashed her personal-best mark as well, finishing with a score of 5,606 points.
Together, they joined LSU's Sharon Jaklofsky, Jovennie McDuffie and Camilla Strid; and UCLA's Jackie Joyner, Susie Ray and Tonya Alston as the only teammate trios to score top-10 finishes at the NCAA meet. UCLA accomplished the feat at the second NCAA women's championships in 1983, while LSU joined the club in 1991.
"It means a lot," Flax said. "Honestly, we work too hard to not place in the top 10."
UW's multi-event group had already made history as the first program since 2001 to send three heptathletes to the NCAA meet.
Together, Akinniyi and Flax -- who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, last year -- became just the fourth set of teammates to ever score back-to-back All-America performances in the heptathlon.
"This is her last NCAAs," Akinniyi said of Flax. "She's amazing. I can't believe she's PR'd at every meet, and she's an inspiration to all of us."
The long jump was a major boost for Flax, who leapt a personal-best 18 feet, 7 3/4 inches. She followed with a typically strong throw of 141-5 in the javelin to climb into fifth place heading into the final event.
She responded with a run of 2:16.43 in the 800 meters to secure the best finish for a UW athlete since Kathy Bogwarth took third in the first-ever NCAA heptathlon in 1982. It also meant Flax finished her career as the second Badger to earn multiple All-America laurels in the heptathlon -- joining Akinniyi.
"It means a lot," said Flax, who also has been selected for the U.S. national team for next month's 2012 NACAC Under-23 Championships. "I worked hard and I'm just happy about it. I can't complain and I couldn't want anything more."
Akinniyi slid from third place after six events all the way to eighth after running 2:26.85 in the 800. In a tightly-contested event, the junior ended up just 28 points out of fifth place.
The 800 also didn't do any favors for Latham, who clocked in at 2:21.52 after solid marks in both the long jump and javelin. She slipped from her eighth-place position heading into the final event, but her 11th-place showing was five spots ahead of her No. 16 seed entering the meet.
"She came here and was in her element," Akinniyi said of Latham. "She did her thing, she PR'd and I couldn't be more proud of her."
Six of the nine athletes that finished ahead of Latham have exhausted their eligibility, while another that will return next season is her own teammate in Akinniyi.
"I'll have another year of experience under my belt," Latham said, looking ahead. "I'm going to come back and not make those naïve mistakes, and then I'll just be ready to compete and, hopefully, get on that podium."
Flax and Akinniyi can testify to that experience.
"I wanted it," Flax said of finishing in the top five. "I wanted it bad enough and I got it, so I'm satisfied."
Like Flax, teammate Monika Jakutyte saw her collegiate career come to an end Friday. Making her fourth trip to an NCAA meet, the senior cleared 5 feet, 7 inches but couldn't get over the bar at 5-8 3/4, earning a 23rd-place finish in the high jump.
Junior Taylor Smith also competed, finishing 19th in the shot put with a throw of 52 feet, 2 inches.
The Badgers close out the NCAA championships Saturday, with senior Jordan Helgren competing in the triple jump at 10 a.m. (CT).