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Beltz wins NAIA long jump title by a centimeter

GULF SHORES, Alabama — Winning every meet, tackling every record and garnering award after award during his senior season was enough for Zach Beltz to cement his legacy as the best jumper to ever wear a Southern Oregon uniform. As an added bonus, on Friday at the NAIA Outdoor Championships, he dabbled in theatrics too.

Beltz can add “most clutch” to the list of superlatives after his latest performance in the long jump at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium: Down to his sixth and final attempt, he replaced the top mark recorded by Jordan Downs of Bethel (Ind.) by the thinnest of margins — a single centimeter — to win SOU’s first national championship in the discipline.

The final leaderboard read 7.81 meters for Beltz, 7.80 for Downs. Downs recorded his mark, translated to 25 feet 7 inches, on his first jump. Through five of six attempts, Beltz was at 25-6; his first two of the finals went 24-3 and 25-0 .

At 25-7 on the last long jump of his collegiate career, his mark was the best for a winner at the meet since 2012. It went down as the Raiders’ 14th men’s event title in outdoor history, their fourth in the last six years, and their first in a field discipline since 2008.

“I just want to bring it back to everyone that supported me through the years,” Beltz said. “I’ve had so much support over my four years at Southern Oregon and it means the world to me that I can show them something that I did for them.”

The Elmira product has one day left in his career as a Raider, also bringing the top seed to Saturday’s triple jump. He’ll try to become the first two-time outdoor champion the Raider men’s team has ever produced. He’s already the 13th three-time outdoor All-American, having finished fourth and sixth in the long jump in his last two trips to Alabama.

Beltz — a four-time Cascade Conference long jump champion and the NAIA West Region Field Athlete of the Year — had never exceeded 25 feet before April 13 but did it in three of his final five outings. He won the CCC title with a record mark of 25-10 and Friday’s victory was his eighth in as many meets this season.

SOU’s other most positive development was in the women’s 4x400-meter relay trials, where Loghan Sprauer, Savannah Greenwade, Julia Delucchi and Arianna Daniel advanced to Saturday’s final in 3 minutes 51.32 seconds. Though their time was the 11th-best of 22 teams, they stole they eighth and final qualifying spot automatically and clinched All-America status by placing second in their heat.

The rest of the day was full of near-misses at qualifying attempts. Freshman AJ Sandvig placed 10th of 26 in the 800 prelims in 1:53.10 and missed the auto-qualifying spot that winning his heat would have secured by 14-hundredths of a second. The 5K took 16 runners to the finals, but Ben Harter (15:32.88) and Noah Oberriter (15:33.23) were 17th and 18th of 24 in their trial runs. Rhett Gonzalez entered the 110 hurdles trials as the No. 8 seed and posted the 14th-fastest time, 14.68.

On the women’s side, Daniel’s attempt at back-to-back All-America honors in the 400 fell short as she placed 11th of 22 overall, and third in her trial heat, in 57.14 seconds.

Sprauer wrapped up at 11th place in the heptathlon with 4,459 points — improving on her 15th-place finish of last season and accumulating the second-highest score of her career, but dropping from the eighth-place position in which she started the day. Hers was still the top showing for a Raider in the heptathlon since Laura Lincoln placed ninth in 2001.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsZach Beltz launches from the board with his last attempt in the finals winning the triple jump with a meet record.