Mike Morrison’s duffel bag was a little heavier on the flight home this past weekend.
The Cal track and field squad’s star decathlete came back from an elbow injury sustained one season ago to capture the decathlon title at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on Friday.
In his final bid for a collegiate crown, the University of Florida transfer set a new decathlon record for the Bears at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.
“It’s a goal five years in the making and to accomplish it is really rewarding,” Morrison said. “It’s not only a huge relief, but it’s the pinnacle of my season.”
The title was a relief because at last year’s championships, Morrison tore a ligament in his elbow during the javelin throw and finished as runner-up to Oregon’s Ashton Eaton.
Finally capturing the elusive NCAA title was sweet redemption for Morrison and posting six career bests on the way to a Cal-record 8,118 points only put a cherry on top. Morrison’s mark surpassed Chris Huffins’ 8,007 point effort from 1993 and made him the fourth Bear to bring home an NCAA decathlon title.
“He responded when the pressure was on,” coach Tony Sandoval said of Morrison. “He set a series of personal records knowing he had to do it to win.”
Morrison sat in fourth place after the first day of competition and didn’t take the lead until the ninth event, the javelin throw.
He threw a personal record of 198-4, good for third best in the field, to garner 745 points and overtake Clemson’s Miller Moss for first place, 7,408 to 7,345. With only the 1500m remaining,
Morrison again put up a big performance for the big stage. He established another personal best with a time of 4:35.35.
The mark was good enough to hold off Duke sophomore Curtis Beach, who ran a 3:59.13 to finish with 8,084 points — second only to Morrison.
“(Beach) has a great future in the sport and he put some pressure on me towards the end, but if you look at how deep the field is, he’s definitely not the only one in contention next year,” Morrison said. “There’s going to be another dog fight next year.”
This year, however, Morrison came out the top dog by ending with a well-needed strong finish.
He has come up with similar heroics on an almost regular basis in the past, often setting personal records on the third and final jump or in the final few deciding events.
“I’ve always thrived in the pressure situations,” Morrison said.”I’m able to rely on experience, stay disciplined, and be confident that my energy levels are going to be higher.”
However, the rest of Cal’s five-athlete contingent at the Championships could not match Morrison’s success.
On the women’s side, Kristen Meister tied for seventh in the high jump after clearing a height of 5-10.75 and fellow senior Tracey Stewart finished 10th in the triple jump with an effort of 42-6.00.
Of the men’s contingent, senior Steve Sodaro finished 23rd in the semifinals of the 3000m steeplechase with a time of 9:13.38 and Ray Stewart, the Pac-10 champion in the 110m hurdles, was disqualified from his heat — bringing his promising season to an end.
Byron Atashian covers track and field.