LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell women’s track and field team sits atop the Patriot League again, this time by a razor-thin margin. Clutch performances from standout distance runners Colleen Buckley and Christine Bendzinski, a huge day for the high jumpers, and terrific efforts all around Gerhard Fieldhouse lifted the Bison to a dramatic 4.5-point win over runner-up Army West Point at the Patriot League Indoor Championships, which wrapped up on Sunday.
After the Black Knights rallied to take a 1.5-point lead with just three events remaining, Buckley and Bendzinski ran away from the field and finished 1-2 in the 3,000 meters. Junior Margaret Thomson came from well behind with a great finishing kick to win the first heat of the 3,000 and snuck a point for eighth place overall, giving the Bison 19 in that event to six for Army.
The Bison then just needed to avoid disaster in the two finishing relays, the distance medley and 4x400. Lehigh helped out by edging out Army for the win in the DMR, and then in the 4x400 Army placed third and Bucknell fifth.
The Bison women captured the indoor title for the second year in a row, for the fifth time in the last seven years, and for the 18th time in the 28-year history of the Patriot League.
“The victory was very sweet, because we knew it was going to be a huge challenge, especially indoors,” said Donner, who was named Patriot League Coach of the Year after the meet. “We do see ourselves as more of an outdoors team, because of the way we recruit and structure our team, but to win at home when we knew we were going to be challenged by Army, Navy and Boston University was great. It was close to the very end, but we had a few events that swung our way such as the mile, the 3,000, and the relays. This gave our ladies a lot of confidence and they continued to pluck away.”
Buckley, who won the 5,000 meters on Saturday and finished fourth in the mile to start the day on Sunday, was named Patriot League Track Athlete of the Meet.
Bendzinski easily could have won the award as well, as she continued to make history by winning the mile for the fourth year in a row, posting a 4:56.48 to beat Army’s Abby Holbrook by a second and a half. Bendzinski also anchored the winning 4x800 relay – picking up her fourth straight gold medal in that event as well -- and was just a stride behind Buckley at the finish of the 3,000.
Bendzinski became just the fourth athlete in league history to win an indoor individual event four straight years. Two of the others are Bucknell Hall-of-Famers: Tameka Hinton, who did it in both the 55-meter dash and 200-meter dash from 1992-95, and Stephanie Bango, who claimed four golds in the 800 from 1999-2002. Lehigh’s Courtney Avery won four straight high jump titles from 2014-17.
“What a great achievement for Chrissy Bendzinski to win the mile four years in a row and 4X800 relay four years in a row,” said Donner. “She is an outstanding athlete, but today was a total team effort. Those sixths, sevenths and eighths added up, and when you win by 4.5 points, you look back and realize that every event really meant something.”
The distance contingent weren’t the only impact performers for Bucknell. Early in the day, senior Lauren Hudson and freshman Alexandra Butz went 1-2 in the high jump. Both cleared 5-5. Sophomore Lexy Forrestal went 5-3 to finish in a tie for fifth place. The 21.5 points scored in the high jump were the most in any single event for any team in the field.
Hudson won her first Patriot League gold medal in the high jump, and she became the first Bison to win the event since her current coach, Amy Mantush, in 2010.
Elsewhere, Kafilat Oladiran continued her outstanding senior year by placing second behind Boston University’s Tehya Noell in the 60-meter hurdles. Oladiran broke her own school record with an 8.68 in Saturday’s prelims, and she clocked in at 8.83 en route to the silver medal in the final. She also finished second in that event as a sophomore in 2016.
Sophomore Kaitlin Salisbury won the silver medal in the 60-meter dash. After qualifying in sixth with a 7.73, she improved to 7.69 in the final and took the No. 2 spot behind Army’s Calli McMullen (7.58). Salisbury also placed fourth in the triple jump with a leap of 39-1.
Freshman Tiara Tardy, who ran on the winning 4x800 relay on Saturday, was the bronze-medalist in the individual 800 on Sunday. She finished in 2:13.10 and beat the two Army runners in the race.
Sophomore Ella Schultz placed third in the shot put with a mark of 45-10, with freshman Delia Sipe taking sixth (44-1 ¼) in her first championship meet. Sipe’s mark was a personal best and moved her up a spot to ninth on Bucknell’s all-time list.
In the 500 meters, Bucknell received important points from junior Natalie Waterhouse (1:16.85) and sophomore Rebecca Rooney (1:16.96). Both competed in the third of four heats. They went 1-2 in their race and snuck into the sixth and seventh spots overall.
Freshman Madeleine Hunt (2:56.96) and sophomore Gianna Mincone (2:58.36) finished 5-6 in the 1,000 meters to help lessen the impact of a 1-2 finish from Army. Holbrook managed to win the event from the early heat, finishing 2.5 seconds ahead of teammate Samantha Coletti’s time from the second heat.
Senior Carli Lucke and youngsters Rooney, Waterhouse and freshman Jennifer Dietrich carried the weight of closing out the meet in the 4x400 relay. Had Army won the event, Bucknell would have won the team title by a half-point with a fifth-place finish and lost it by a half-point with a sixth-place finish. As it turned out, Navy and Boston University outran the Black Knights down the home stretch, and the Bison quartet got the fifth-place finish it needed.
Bucknell finished with 158.5 points to Army's 154. Navy was third with 140, followed by Boston University (129), Lehigh (77.5), Holy Cross (67), Loyola (28), American (17), Lafayette (7) and Colgate (2).
Bucknell will next compete at the ECAC Indoor Championships on March 3-4 in Boston.