Finish line at UH for first time
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
Sendoffs for seniors at the University of Hawai'i are usually sincere and sentimental. For Nicole Wright, the Rainbow Wahine have scheduled organized mayhem.
They will host their first Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week at Cooke Field. Some 500 athletes will be competing on the renovated rainbow-colored track, jumping into imported Australian sand, performing the long throws (discus, hammer, javelin) across the road at the soccer field and warming up at Les Murakami Stadium.
Wright, a 2001 Kalaheo graduate and the lone UH senior, is rarely at a loss for words. But the best description she can come up with for her final home sprints, hurdles and jumps is "wonderful."
When she came to Manoa four years ago, the track was an injured ankle waiting to happen and the program was only two years into its rebirth. After four seasons of traveling to the Mainland basically every other week for meets, being home for the final days is a blessing.
It has been a senior season of mixed blessings. Sophomore Meghan Weaver is the first Rainbow Wahine to qualify for NCAA regionals in three field events — shot put, discus and hammer. Junior Patricia Gauthier has also qualified, for the second straight year, in pole vault. Both are in the region's Top 20.
The 'Bows have broken or tied seven outdoor school records, six by sophomore Annett Wichmann, from Germany. On one brilliant day in L.A. (April 12), Weaver and Gauthier got their NCAA standards and several Rainbow Wahine set personal bests. On their next trip, seven 'Bows set season or personal bests at the Sacramento Invitational, including Wright, who is closing fast with career bests in the long and triple jumps.
And yet, last season a record seven Rainbow Wahine went to regionals. Rain has wiped out more than one day, including a washout when the 'Bows were competing in two meets simultaneously and Bryan Clay, Hawai'i's Olympic silver medalist, came to visit.
One woman came by the Hawai'i tent during the downpour asking if it was "pineapple rain," Wright recalled. "We were thinking, 'what is pineapple rain?' I mean, rain that big might hurt."
Wichmann, for all her excellence, still has not reached the NCAA standard needed for nationals (there is no heptathlon regional). A virus broke out in the middle of the last Mainland trip, catching several athletes and coach Carmyn James. Wichmann, who won silver in the pentathlon at the WAC Indoors in February, set school and event marks at the Northridge and California multi-events. But at that last event, after setting records in the 100 hurdles, 200, shot put and total first-day score — and on NCAA pace — she had to pull out with illness.
Now, all the travel and 4:45 a.m. airport shuttles and Mainland questions about "Dog the Bounty Hunter" are over. The 'Bows close at home, with a goal of improving on last year's sixth-place finish. The meet will have its share of NCAA qualifiers, with Boise State alone bringing in three field athletes (Mattias Jons in hammer, Keron Francis javelin and Steffan Jonsson discus) ranked in the country's top five.
The team consequences are expected to encourage even more athletes to reach NCAA regional standards.
"I'm coming every single day," says Wright, who harbors hopes of reaching regionals in the triple jump. "These are my teammates. Everyone should come."
She thanked her teammates "for being part of my life" on the last road trip. Now, she can finish where she started, on a rainbow track "where you can't lose your lane and if you look up at the right time you can really see a rainbow."
"When people see that," Wright says, "they get why I'm here."
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.