EUGENE, Ore. — Senior Dakota Peachee of the High Point University men’s track & field team placed fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, earning All-America honors at the NCAA Championship on Friday evening at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Peachee is High Point’s first Div. I All-American in men’s track & field.
“He did exactly what we talked about, he followed the plan and stayed composed the whole way,” said HPU head coach Mike Esposito. “He really believed he could do this. It clicked this season and this place was rocking, it was magical. Watching the splits I knew he was within himself. The way this race played out was ideal.”
Peachee finished in a new career best, HPU and Big South Conference record of 8:43.04, just eclipsing his previous record of 8:43.46. His fifth-place finish earned four points in the meet, marking the first time HPU scored points in the NCAA Men’s Track & Field Championship.
“From the standpoint of building our program, Dakota’s finish so significant,” said Esposito. “We have two runners poised to get back here and do this next year. Our goal is to come back with multiple qualifiers and keep moving forward. Success breeds success.”
Three runners pulled away in the early going: winner Anthony Rotich of UTEP (8:21.19), runner-up Henry Lelei of Texas A&M (8:23.16) and third-place finisher Stanley Kebenei of Arkansas (8:24.45). Lelei was the favorite going into the race but fell on the final water barrier.
With those three leaders out front, Peachee was in a race for fourth place. He stayed among the top eight the whole way, moving up to fourth with a lap to go before finishing fifth in 8:43.04. BYU’s Curtis Carr used a strong final lap to place fourth in 8:40.87.
Behind Peachee, Louisville’s Mattias Wolter took sixth in 8:43.58, Eastern Kentucky’s Ole Hesselbjerg took seventh in 8:43.80 and Colorodo’s Aric VanHalen placed eighth in 8:44.50.
Peachee was the third HPU men’s runner to qualify for the NCAA Championship and the first to qualify for a final. Jacob Smith qualified for the NCAA Championship in the 3,000-meter steeplechase last year and will return to compete for HPU in 2013-14. Taylor Milne qualified in the indoor mile in 2004 and went on to run in the 2008 Olympics for Canada.
Peachee earned the trip to Eugene with his win at the NCAA Preliminary on May 24 in Greensboro, N.C. Peachee ran his then-career best time of 8:43.46 while winning his heat. Earlier this spring, Peachee won the 3,000-meter steeplechase and placed third in the 1,500-meter at the Big South Championship.
It’s the first All-American for Esposito, now in his eighth season leading HPU’s program. At Big South Championships this year, the Panthers finished second cross country, a program-best second in indoor track & field and third in outdoor track & field, which tied the program best.