To the finish

The race for the 2003 Conference USA Indoor Track and Field Championship lived up to the cliché of going down to the wire.

Heading into the competition’s final event, the 4×400-meter relay, USF trailed Houston by 2 1/2 points. But USF finished second to the Cougars in the race, giving Houston the conference championship by a slim 4 1/2 points.

“That is the way a championship should be,” USF coach Greg Thiel said. “It should go down to the last event.

“The kids loved the intensity and the drama of the entire day. The whole intensity of the second day was just fun, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”

The Bulls finished runner-up to the Cougars for the second consecutive year, but left the meet content with their performance.

“We’re not left with that what-if scenario,” Thiel said. “It’s very easy to look back and find three or four points. It can be as close as us taking second instead of fourth.

“We gave it a great shot, and we just came up short.”

The meet ended exactly how Thiel said it would, with Houston and USF vying for the championship after the first day of competition. The two teams Thiel said would be a factor in determining the outcome, TCU and Marquette, did what was expected.

The only problem was that Marquette hurt USF more than TCU hurt Houston.

The biggest setback in USF’s run at the conference title came in the 3,000-meter race. USF earned seven points to Houston’s zero behind Jessica Hellender’s fourth-place finish and Christa Benton’s seventh-place finish. However, Marquette swept the first three spots, stealing some valuable points from the Bulls.

TCU was supposed to challenge Houston in the shorter running events, but Houston racked up 40 points to USF’s three in the 60 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters.

“Sometimes you get help, and sometimes you don’t,” Thiel said. “They had a couple more girls, and Marquette got us in the 3,000. That’s just what happens when two teams are going for the title.”

One event in which Houston gained some valuable points was the pentathlon. Although USF’s Alexis McGaffagan won the event with 3,800 points, she was the only Bull in the event. Houston used four competitors and all four placed in the top eight, helping the Cougars earn 17 points to USF’s 10.

Although USF wasn’t able to win the title, the Bulls did what they had become accustomed to during the season. Nine Bulls set personal bests, and USF tallied four first-place finishes.