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Raiders add another title with Hixon

GULF SHORES, Ala. — Seniors Jared Hixon and Dylan Alexander added more decorations to their legacies and a handful of others started building theirs as Southern Oregon University's run at the 65th annual NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships ended Saturday at Blackwell Stadium.

Hixon's illustrious career ended in appropriate fashion, with one final kick that made him a 1,500-meter national champion, and Alexander improbably snagged third place in the 5,000 at the end of a long road back from an injury that had plagued him since capturing the title last year.

An all-underclassmen quartet took fourth place in SOU's first ever appearance in the men's 4x100 relay final, while Kevin Poteracke was eighth in the 3,000 steeplechase to give the Raiders one more point in just his second full season on the track.

And then there was Jessa Perkinson, less than 48 hours removed from winning the 10K title. She kept enough juice in reserve to place third in the 5K, making her the fourth individual in SOU women's history to become an All-American in two events at the same national meet. Her 16 total points were the most ever scored by a Raider on the women's side and put SOU in a tie for 20th place in the team standings.

With four more All-America performances on top of Joseph Dotson's fifth-place showing in the decathlon Friday, the Raider men totaled 26 points to tie for 11th in the team standings. All five All-Americans outdid their starting seeds.

For the third consecutive year, the Raiders captured an individual championship on the men's and women's side — a feat that had previously been accomplished once.

Hixon, who entered the week as the No. 7 seed, guided the lead 1,500 pack from the start. He fell a stride behind Cardinal Stritch's Daniel Garcia, the top seed, going into the final stretch but kicked ahead with about 50 meters to go and hit the finish line in 3 minutes, 52.73 seconds — comfortably ahead of Carroll's Lyle Pocha (3:53.21) and Garcia (3:53.60).

His title is the 13th in SOU men's outdoor history and the second in the 1,500 in three years after Eric Avila claimed it in 2014. Hixon became an outdoor All-American for the second time — he was fourth in the 1,500 in 2014 before redshirting last year — to go with All-America accolades in cross country and indoor track (distance medley relay).

"He was what a fifth-year senior should be: focused and in the right position the entire way," SOU head coach Grier Gatlin said. "He executed the race plan and it's really cool that he ended as a national champion."

Alexander, the ninth seed in the 5K, clocked in at 14:46.31 for his third-place finish, outlasting five competitors with whom he'd packed most of the way and all five came in within the next three seconds. Before Alexander's arrival, SOU was without a 5K All-American in its history.

"That's his fourth race in a year, two of which were in the last two days," Gatlin said. "It's unbelievable that he's third in that race with the luck he's had this spring."

Earlier in the day, the 4x100 team of Julius Shellmire, Zac Hannan, Hayden Saparto and Cameron Bremner clocked 41.35 and now owns the top three marks on SOU's all-time list, along with the best finish in any men's outdoor relay. The Raiders actually came in fifth — Indiana Tech won in 40.17 — but runner-up Wiley was disqualified post-race due to unsportsmanlike activity that was fueled by frustration.

"They were fantastic," Gatlin said. "It was really cool to see an SOU team in a sprints final and perform well."

Poteracke moved up one spot after coming into the meet with the No. 9 seed, taking eighth place in 9:26.67. He became SOU's first All-American in the steeple since 2013.

After getting beaten by Perkinson down the stretch in the women's 10K, top-seeded Karis Frankian of The Master's got her revenge with a 17:16.51 win in the 5K. Perkinson ran a 17:39.31 for third place after entering as the fifth seed and is the first 5K All-American in SOU women's history. She was also an All-American in cross country and with SOU's indoor distance medley relay team.