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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Simms is on track at Michigan

By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer

When Mililani High School graduate Vera Simms met with the University of Michigan women's track coach a few months after winning a record five gold medals in the state championships, she quickly let him know her priorities.


Michigan's Vera Simms set a school record of 58.50 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles at the Big Ten Championships, and qualified provisionally for the NCAA Championships.

Kurt Awender photo, University of Michigan

I'm here to get an education first," said Simms, an honors graduate of Mililani High.

"We would have it no other way," answered coach James Henry.

But, as the Audy Kimura song goes, she has "somehow found a way to be the two."

Simms, a sophomore, is a star in the classrooms at Ann Arbor, where she made the honor roll (3.6 GPA last fall) in the School of Engineering, and on the track. Sunday, she won the Big Ten Conference championship in the 400-meter hurdles.

She set a Michigan school record of 58.50 seconds and qualified provisionally for the NCAA Division I Championship next week in Baton Rouge, La.

"She's a perfect maize-and-blue student- athlete," Henry said.

In less than two months, Simms has improved her 400 hurdles time more than two seconds.

She shares 24th place in NCAA-I rankings. "Provisional" qualification means she could get one of the 21 spots in the championship trials next week if three hurdlers ranked above her withdraw because of injuries or concentrate on another event.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg for her ... what would be the Hawaiian equivalent?" coach Henry asked. "This is just the beginning of a great career."

Henry had predicted great things for Simms despite a freshman season in 2001 that was not impressive. Her best time was 60.76 seconds, slower than she had run in winning bronze at the national Junior Olympics the summer before.

"I had to make a lot of adjustments," Simms explained, "weather, college academics, weather ..."

Henry remained confident. "I thought she would break the school record, but I didn't think she would demolish it," he said. The former record, set in 1994, was 59.33.

Simms barely broke it April 19 in California (59.22) and demolished it by more than 8/10ths of a second on Sunday.

"I haven't had an athlete of her work ethic and caliber in this event before," said Henry, Michigan's women's coach for 18 years.

Talent aside, Simms almost didn't get to the starting line for the Big Ten 400 hurdles final on Sunday. In trials on Saturday, Simms was leading her heat, but hit the last hurdle and sprawled on the track. Fortunately, she was so far ahead that she got up and still won the heat in a career slow 1:02.02. "I've got the scars to prove it," Simms said yesterday.

"That was a surreal moment," said her mother, Circuit Judge Sandra Simms, who flew with her husband, Hank, to watch the championship meet in 40-degree temperatures at the University of Wisconsin. They were joined by Vera's uncle David from Chicago.

In addition to the 400 hurdles, Simms was Michigan's second fastest runner this season in the 100 (12.53) and 100 hurdles (14.25) and third in the 200 (25.11). She is also No. 2 for the Wolverines in the long jump (19-6 1/2).

Simms also ran a strong third leg on the meet-ending 4x400-meter relay, when Michigan clinched the Big Ten team championship.

"Vera Simms is our Hawaiian Punch Queen," said coach Henry, still looking for the right Hawaiian vernacular.

• Also on the bubble: Oregon junior Eri Macdonald (Punahou '99, of Kailua) ran the slowest 800 of her career (2:19.76) to finish eighth in the Pac-10 Championships at Washington State. But Macdonald's 2:06.37 on April 13 ranks 23rd in NCAA-I and she also has a chance at nationals. Last year, 22 runners were chosen for the 800-meter NCAA semifinals.

• Season pau: Junior Alicia Snyder-Carlson of Oregon (St. Anthony '99, of Kihei) was 13th in qualifying for the Pac-10 400 hurdles in 63.72, well off her best. ... Portland State freshman Annie Kawasaki (St. Francis '01, of Makiki) finished 10th in the 5,000-meter run at the Big Sky Conference championships in 18:54.97. Her season-best of 17:26.19 is third-fastest in school history.