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Raiders' Avila claims 1,500 crown at nationals

GULF SHORES, Ala. — Another banner season for the Southern Oregon University track and field team ended in appropriate fashion Saturday as the NAIA Outdoor Championships concluded at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium.

Eric Avila finished off what was arguably the best year for any runner in Raider history with a 1,500-meter title. Holly Haga, Jared Hixon, Kevin Jorgensen and Amelia Maguin earned All-American labels, too. And with All-American performances in a combined nine men's and women's events over the last three days, SOU matched its 2012 team for the most ever produced by the school.

With 26 points, the Raider men finished ninth in the team standings, and the Raider women totaled 19 to finish 14th. Indiana Tech won both titles.

In becoming SOU's 11th men's NAIA champion, Avila also got revenge on British Columbia's Luc Bruchet, who nipped Avila by three-tenths of a second to win last year's 1,500-meter title.

This time Bruchet finished third, and it was Concordia's Matthew Clowes who Avila had to track down over the final couple-hundred meters. Avila darted late to the finish line, triumphing in 3 minutes, 48.93 seconds.

Clowes came in at 3:50.27, and trailing Bruchet was Hixon in fourth place. Hixon placed 26th in the race in 2013, and his time of 3:51.74 was an improvement of more than 13 seconds over his trial time last year.

In a repeat of the 2013 400-meter finals, Amelia Maguin provided the Raider women with her second straight runner-up finish to Indiana Tech's Zalika Dixon. Maguin's run registered 59.19 seconds to break her own school record for the third straight meet, but she was unable to out-kick the defending champ Dixon, who won in 58.49.

Maguin is now the 12th two-time All-American in SOU women's history.

Holly Haga, in her fourth and final crack at the NAIA Championships, became a first-time All-American by slipping into eighth place as the No. 11 seed in the discus. Haga threw 144 feet, 6 inches on her third and final shot at getting out of her flight and into the top eight. That throw stood as her best in the finals and allowed her to exceed her previous top finish at the meet of 16th place in 2011.

Haga is SOU's third All-American in the women's discus, and the first since Nicole Robertson became a four-timer in 2002.

Jorgensen took seventh in the men's 800-meter final with a time of 1:53.47. He got in with a trial time Friday of 1:52.75 seconds, making him an All-American after missing out by one spot in the 800 last year. Eastern Oregon's Hans Roelle won the event in 1:50.35.

Avila and Hixon ran out of gas in the final race of the day, the 5,000 meters, which started less than two hours after the 1,500 finished. Avila, the top seed coming in, placed 11th in 15:20.47 and Hixon was 13th (15:38.36).

Sam Atkin's winning time of 14:41.96 was almost a minute slower than Avila's best this season, but running in 88-degree heat with 80 percent humidity, none of the runners who placed in the top nine doubled up on events as Avila and Hixon did.

Still, Avila delivered SOU's first men's title in a running event since Kelly Jensen won the steeplechase in 1978. Avila additionally won the NAIA cross country title this fall — also SOU's first since Jensen won in 1978 — and was a part of the Raiders' indoor national champion distance-medley-relay team that included Jorgensen, Jonz Olander and Zach Boyd-Helm.

In the meet's two days prior to Saturday, the Raiders secured All-Americans in Eric Ghelfi (10,000 meters), Markus Sanders (discus, hammer) and Stephanie Techler (pole vault).

Thanks to Avila and Techler, the Raiders will return to Ashland with both a men's and women's individual title for the first time since 1988.