Fernandez, Jones qualify for NCAA East Regional at conference championships

Blanca Fernandez won two events as the Owls took ninth out of 11 teams at the American Athletic Conference championships on Sunday in Orlando, Florida.

Blanca Fernandez finished first in both her events at the American Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships in Orlando, Florida at the Central Florida Track Complex on Sunday.

Fernandez won the 1,500 and 5,000-meter races, scoring 20 of Temple’s 37 total points. The graduate student claimed back-to-back victories in the 1,500, as she took first last year as well.

In the 5K, Fernandez nabbed the top spot with a time of 16 minutes, 14.62 seconds, setting a new stadium record by about three seconds.

The time also broke Fernandez’s own school record in the event, setting a personal best time for her. The León, Spain native is training in this event to reach the 2016 Rio Olympics.

As an added challenge for Fernandez, she had less than two hours between her two events. In her two events, Fernandez runs about four miles total.

“Not many people understand how difficult it is to run two intense races in a two-hour span,” coach Elvis Forde said. “It’s an incredible effort on her part, and it shows how determined she is to want to be a champion. She has that integrity that you can’t teach.”

Fernandez’s top finishes qualify her for the NCAA East Regional Meet going on from May 26-28 in Jacksonville, Florida. She will be joined at the regional meet by freshman multis competitor Crystal Jones and possibly freshman sprinter and hurdler Sylvia Wilson.

The Owls finished ninth of 11 teams in The American, following their eighth-place finish in the indoor conference championships.

“As a coach with a desire to be successful, I can’t say I’m happy with the outcome, but I think our program is making strides in the right direction,” Forde said.

Another point-scorer for the Owls was Jones, who scored nine total points. Eight of those points came from the high jump, where she took second with a season-high jump of 1.73 meters. Jones earned her other point in the 400-hurdle finals, taking eighth place in 1:07.84.

Jones had to juggle her two events and even had to leave the high jump at one point to run the hurdles, then return to the high jump.

“Crystal Jones had a really good day,” Forde said. “With all the challenges she faced, it was just an incredible effort on her part.”

Sophomore distance runner Katie Pinson finished sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, which won three points for Temple. This was only Pinson’s second time running this event.

“I was very pleased with Katie Pinson’s performance,” Forde said. “I see her improving over the next few years in this event with more practice.”

Finishing off the scoring for the Owls was junior Bionca St. Fleur, who took seventh place in the long jump and scored two points on Saturday. Wilson brought in two points with a seventh-place finish in the 100 hurdle finals.

While Temple had a higher finish in outdoor conferences than it did last season—the Owls finished last in 2015—Forde still sees room for improvement and notes injuries as a reason for some lackluster performances at the conference meet this year.

“We came into the conference meet with a lot of bumps and bruises,” Forde said. “Comparing to last year, the team continues to get better, but I wish we were healthier to show we are still getting better.”

Fernandez is still recovering from IT band difficulties that left her out of nearly the entire indoor season. Wilson has been battling nerve problems in her foot since the indoor season as well.

“It is disappointing to see Sylvia run at less than 75 percent,” Forde said. “But, it is a testament to her courage and dedication to Temple to run with what she is dealing with.”

St. Fleur and junior sprinter Kenya Gaston are also functioning at about 75 percent, and they have been top scorers for the Owls in their respective events this year. Junior sprinter and jumper Jimmia McCluskey, freshman sprinter Aliya Sharp, and Pinson are also dealing with some “bumps and bruises of their own.”

Forde had to scratch Pinson from the 5,000, as well as Temple’s 1,600-relay team, as he hoped to avoid pushing any of his athletes too far.

“Considering how our conference is very, very competitive, and the condition the team was in, it was still a good weekend,” Forde said. “We’ve still got years ahead because our only athlete in their last season is Blanca. We got a lot of valuable experience this weekend, and all we can do is continue to work hard.”

Maura Razanauskas can be reached at marua.razanauskas@temple.edu

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