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Rice pole vault star earns First-Team All-American at NCAA Championships

Rice sophomore McKenzie Johnson was one of three Owls to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this week in Eugene Oregon. She recorded a no height, while teammate Chris Pillow took seventh in the men’s competition.
Conference USA

In what his coach called the best pole vault competition in NCAA history, Rice junior Chris Pillow tied his career best and took home seventh place.

Pillow was one of three Rice athletes competing Wednesday through Friday at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. Three more Owls will strive for All-American status in field events on Saturday.

Pillow made his first appearance at the championships on Wednesday. His best mark of the day was 5.5 meters, tying him for seventh place with Reese Watson of Texas. The top eight finishers of each event are named First-Team All-Americans.

Ole Miss vaulter Sam Kendricks won the national championship with a vault of 5.7 meters.

“Chris competed in what was one of the best pole vault competitions in NCAA history,” said Rice men’s track coach Jon Warren in a school-issued news release. “He had a great series and really performed well. Eighteen feet has won many, many NCAA national championships and this year it took that to finish in the top nine. The way he performed and responded when he had to was truly outstanding. He did Rice proud today.”

Pillow, who hails from Mechanicsville, Va., cleared the bar on his third attempt at 5.50 meters (or 18-0.50 feet). He attempted 5.55 meters but was unsuccessful. He also recorded 5.50 meters at the Texas Relays on March 27. Only Jason Colwick has achieved a higher mark in school history. In fact, Colwick was the last Rice track First-Team All-American. He won the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships in 2009.

Rice also had a competitor in the women’s pole vault. McKenzie Johnson, a sophomore from San Diego, did not clear the bar on her attempts Friday. She was one of four athletes to record no height. Akron’s Annika Roloff won the event, clearing 4.4 meters.

“There were some tough conditions for all the vaulters today with swirling headwinds,” said Rice women’s track coach Jim Bevan. “But McKenzie gained some valuable experience coming to nationals as just a sophomore. She’ll be able to take advantage of being here going into next season.”

Johnson won four outdoor events this year and took second in the C-USA Outdoor Championship with a vault of 4.08 meters.

Rice’s Cali Roper capped her freshman season by taking 22nd place in the 10,000 meter run Thursday. Her time of 34:34.33 was about 16 seconds off her best time in the event. The race was won by Emma Bates of Boise State. UAB runner Elinor Kirk was the runner up. Top seed Erin Finn of Michigan took sixth.

Roper was the third runner in Rice history to qualify for a NCAA Outdoors Championship long distance event.

“Cali completed an awesome freshman year, competing in her first national meet as a freshman,” Bevan said. “She ran a courageous race, going out faster than she’s ever gone out and that’s what she had to do. She went through the first 5K as fast as she had run.”

The Conroe native won the Conference USA Outdoor 10,000 meters title and had several cross country highlights last fall.

“She gained valuable experience for the future and she’ll be back here, older, wiser and fitter,” Bevan said.

Rice’s 2013-2014 athletic season concludes Saturday. Sophomore Evan Karakolis will throw for the javelin title at 2:35 p.m. CST. A few minutes later, Belle MacFarlane will begin the women’s high jump competition. Meanwhile, Claire Uke will look to improve upon her 18th place NCAA Outdoors Championship showing a year ago in the shot put. Her event begins at 3 p.m.

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