EUGENE, Ore. -- First there was the relief that came with knowing that her mark would stand. Then came the award ceremony, where she received a bouquet of yellow flowers and her national champion trophy. Then came the victory lap.
But Princeton sophomore Julia Ratcliffe had no family in the stands (they live in New Zealand) and few teammates at the meet, so she wondered if anyone would actually cheer for her as she made her way around the stadium at the NCAA track and field championships. But a voice that came over the PA system and announced Ratcliffe was met with cheers and applause. She high-fived strangers and almost let herself relax.
Still, she was waiting on one thing: a text from her father, the man who gave Ratcliffe her start in the hammer throw.
Finally, the text came through.
You made Princeton history today, kid. You're a champion.
"He's a man of few words," Ratcliffe said with a laugh. "It's the highest of praise from Dave Ratcliffe when he says you have done well."
Growing up, Ratcliffe's father coached the local high school track team and saw potential in his daughter, getting her involved in throws early. Like in the United States, hammer throwing isn't a popular sport in New Zealand.
"When I was in high school, I could've probably named all of the hammer throwers in all of New Zealand," Ratcliffe said.
Because of that, she ended up traveling across the country to find good competition. And by the last few years of her high school career, as she was beginning her international throwing career, she began to really see the sport as something she could continue in college.
Ratcliffe's father started doing research on which American universities had good economics programs and women's track and field teams and came across Princeton. She had been to the States only once before she came to college (a family vacation to California), but through phone calls -- at inconvenient hours for everyone because of the eight-hour time difference -- and emails, Ratcliffe felt comfortable enough to give her verbal to the Tigers.
The hammer has taken Ratcliffe all over the world to different stadiums and venues, but throwing at Hayward Field this season felt just a bit more special to Ratcliffe. She attended the NCAA championships as a freshman but didn't perform well and didn't fully appreciate the history behind the field and name.
This season, she approached it a bit differently, a bit more veteran-like, despite just being a sophomore.
"I came in knowing what to expect," Ratcliffe said. "But I also came in able to appreciate it more as well."
On a day that didn't see many personal bests in the hammer throw, Ratcliffe notched the top three distances of the day, and her mark of 219 feet, 5 inches gave her the title and an undefeated sophomore season.
It was Princeton's first-ever women's track and field individual national title and extended Princeton athletics' streak of 43 consecutive years with an individual or team national championship. Without Ratcliffe's win at the NCAA championships, the streak would've been broken.
With nationals behind her, she'll move back to some international competition, representing New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in July. And she has her eyes on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.
But Ratcliffe knows she still has two years of unfinished business at Hayward, which is just as important.
"Of course I'll be gunning to reclaim my [NCAA] title next year," Ratcliffe said.
Oregon women hurt chances for title
If Oregon wanted to contend for the team title, each and every member participating needed to be darn close to perfect (and still hope that Texas didn't hit on all cylinders in each race).
But the Ducks severely hurt their chances for the team title with their 4x100-meter relay. The second-seeded relay failed to finish the race as Sasha Wallace, who ran the first leg for the Ducks, failed to deliver the baton to Phyllis Francis.
But, to go along with that very low note for Oregon came a very high note as well. Sophomore Jenna Prandini won the long jump competition with a leap of 21 feet, 6 inches, which was a new personal best.
And in every other race, the Ducks held up or exceeded expectations.
Senior Laura Roesler qualified for the final in the 800-meter run with the best time of the day (2:02.6). She was seeded second to Georgia's Megan Malasarte, who also qualified in the third position. Francis and Prandini took care of business in the 400-meter dash and the 100-meter dash, respectively. Both are the only Ducks in that race, and both qualified for the finals.
In the hammer throw, junior Jillian Weir finished sixth, jumping up nine positions from her seed spot into a scoring position for the Ducks.
Shocking 400 finish for Texas
Texas junior Ashley Spencer -- the two-time defending 400-meter national champion -- came into the semifinal as the top overall seed (51.38). She got out to a phenomenal start, and it looked as though she'd be breezing to an easy qualification for the finals when she went down just before the 300-meter mark. Spencer had to be helped off the track by two trainers before collapsing on the infield.
The injury wasn't completely out of the blue. Spencer suffered a muscle strain in her left leg at the NCAA West Preliminary Championship on May 31. Per a Texas media relations official, this looks to just be an aggravation of that same injury.
However, Texas won't be without representation in the finals of the event on Friday. Sophomore Courtney Okolo, who currently holds the NCAA record for the outdoor 400-meter dash (50.03), qualified first with the best time of the day (50.78), while senior Briana Nelson and freshman Kendall Baisden qualified third and fourth, respectively.
Day 1 results
A quick note: The only champions that were crowned on Wednesday were in the hammer throw, long jump and javelin events. The other events (4x100-meter relay, 800-meter run, 400-meter run, 100-meter dash, 400-meter hurdles, 3,000-meter steeplechase) were semifinals. Those finals will be competed on Friday.
But who gets into the finals and how? Glad you asked.
For each semifinal, there were three heats that had an even distribution of talent (top-seeded runner went in the first heat, second-seeded runner went in the second heat, etc.) The top two runners from each heat received an automatic qualification to the finals. After that, the top two times -- regardless of heat -- got the nod for the finals. So in some cases, there were actually athletes who ran faster than the lowest seed who didn't get into the finals. For example, in the 400-meter dash, Tennessee's Alexis Panisse ran the second-fastest time in her heat, so she got a spot in the finals, but in other heats, Alabama's Yanique Malcolm (2:05.05) and Hampton's Ce'aira Brown (2:05.01) actually ran faster.
For the 3,000-meter steeplechase, they had two heats of 12 runners. The top five runners from each heat automatically qualified and then the next two fastest times -- regardless of heat -- also qualified.
1. Julia Ratcliffe, Princeton (219-5)
2. Emily Hunsucker, Colorado (212-8)
3. Brooke Pleger, Bowling Green (211-6)
4. Brittany Funk, Akron (210-11)
5. Denise Hinton, LSU (210-9)
6. Jillian Weir, Oregon (209-7)
7. Sara Savatovic, Kansas State (209-4)
8. Erin Atkinson, Baylor (206-8)
1. Jenna Prandini, Oregon (21-6)
2. Sha'Keela Saunders, Kentucky (21-1¼)
3. Kylie Price, UCLA (21-1¼)
4. Lorraine Ugen, TCU (21-0)
5. Zinnia Miller, Iowa (20-11¾)
6. Chanice Porter, Georgia (20-9)
7. Jazmin McCoy, Nebraska (20-8½)
8. Sydney Conley, Kansas (20-8)
1. Fawn Miller, Florida (190-8)
2. Avione Allgood, Oklahoma (182-4)
3. Victoria Paterra, Miami (Ohio) (182-3)
4. Maggie Malone, Nebraska (181-3)
5. Laura Loht, Penn State (178-6)
6. Freya Jones, Georgia (174-1)
7. Sabine Kopplin, Virginia Tech (173-4)
8. Hannah Carson, Texas Tech (172-1)
1. USC (43.08)
2. Florida (43.26)
3. Texas A&M (43.44)
4. Texas (43.69)
5. Alabama (43.76)
6. Ohio State (43.94)
7. LSU (43.95)
8. Florida State (44.17)
1. Laura Roesler, Oregon (2:02.60)
2. Claudia Sanders, Stanford (2:02.68)
3. Megan Malasarte, Georgia (2:03.35)
4. Ejiroghene Okoro, Iowa State (2:04.28)
5. Sonia Gaskin, Kansas State (2:04.37)
6. Amy Weissenbach, Stanford (2:04.46)
7. Megan Krumpoch, Dartmouth (2:04.96)
8. Alexis Panisse, Tennessee (2:05.26)
1. Courtney Okolo, Texas (50.78)
2. Robin Reynolds, Florida (51.36)
3. Briana Nelson, Texas (51.40)
4. Kendall Baisden, Texas (51.67)
5. Phyllis Francis, Oregon (51.69)
6. Margaret Bamgbose, Notre Dame (51.76)
7. Michelle Brown, Notre Dame (51.86)
8. Kiara Porter, VCU (52.06)
1. Remona Burchell, Alabama (10.95)
2. Morolake Akinosun, Texas (11.04)
3. Jenna Prandini, Oregon (11.11)
4. Olivia Ekpone, Texas A&M (11.114)
5. Shayla Sanders, Florida (11.118)
6. Tynia Gaither, USC (11.229)
6. Jennifer Madu, Texas A&M (11.229)
8. Mahagony Jones, Penn State (11.29)
1. Kendra Harrison, Kentucky (55.56)
2. Shamier Little, Texas A&M (55.58)
3. Nikita Tracey, LSU (56.435)
3. Janeil Bellille, Texas A&M (56.435)
5. Eseroghene Okoro, Iowa State (56.67)
6. Chanice Chase, LSU (57.14)
7. Leah Nugent, Kentucky (57.15)
8. Kiah Seymour, Penn State (57.24)
1. Rachel Sorna, Cornell (9:53.76)
2. Shalaya Kipp, Colorado (9:56.72)
3. Rachel Johnson, Baylor (9:57.27)
4. Marisa Howard, Boise State (9:58.45)
5. Alexa Aragon, Notre Dame (9:59.67)
6. Leah O'Connor, Michigan State (10:00.83)
7. Jessica Kamilos, Arkansas (10:01.06)
8. Grace Heymsfield, Arkansas (10:03.34)
9. Maya Rehberg, Iona (10:05.07)
10. Sarah Martinelli, West Virginia (10:05.27)
11. Liberty Miller, Washington (10:05.40)
12. Tova Magnusson, SMU (10:07.98)