Seanna Nalbandyan banished any thought of how fast, or slow, she might finish Saturday’s 400-meter hurdle final at NAIA nationals in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
The Master’s University sophomore and Canyon grad was on the cusp of becoming the second Mustang ever to earn All-American honors in more than one season. But neither was that idea allotted headspace.
Nalbandyan instead focused on the women standing beside her, a formidable bunch with similar resumes. She knew she needed to start fast. She couldn’t allow even a marginal gap to form.
Nalbandyan’s narrow focus paid off as she produced a PR on the NAIA’s biggest stage, finishing seventh and earning her second All-American honor in as many seasons.
She didn’t learn until after the race that she was the first Mustang since Saugus grad Karis Frankian to finish in the top eight of a national final in more than one season. Frankian earned All-American honors in four straight years from 2013-2016.
“It’s an honor,” Nalbandyan said of making history. “I honestly didn’t know that, so it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”
Championship Saturday, in which the Mustangs found themselves part of four races, was otherwise characterized by impressive performances that missed out on hardware by small margins.
Justin Harris (3,000 steeplechase; 9 minutes, 40.30 seconds) and Stephen Pacheco (5,000; 15:03.64) each finished ninth in their respective races, one place back of All-American honors.
Arianna Ghiorso was 11th in the women’s 1,500, capping an inspiring freshman season with a mark of 4:52.63.
Nalbandyan’s time was 1:01.37, beating her previous best of 1:01.66.
Schroeder’s belief entering nationals was that parity could rule the women’s 400 hurdles, or at least more so than it had a year ago. In fact, seven of the eight finalists were within a second of each other during Thursday’s prelims.
Nalbandyan’s margin for error was thin, and even after she ran an impressive PR in the event Saturday, she found herself in seventh place, matching her 2018 finish.
Still, the achievement had a promising ring to it.
After a slow start to 2019, this race had the feel of an upward trajectory toward greater achievement in years to come.
“I’m just super thankful to still be given the opportunity to compete here and be an All-American despite my rough season,” Nalbandyan said. “I ended it on a good note.”
So did Harris.
If Schroeder were to dispense a most improved award, Harris would be a heavy contender.
At one point this season, it remained uncertain whether the junior would qualify for nationals. He was close, it seemed, to drawing a breakthrough race out of himself at any given meet, but such a moment never materialized. Not, at least, until the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships. There Harris ran a 17-second PR and hit the NAIA “B” cut.
He credited the eye-popping improvement to a shift in thinking. Namely, he began to let his arduous training set the bar for what he could accomplish.
Two weeks later, he recorded another personal best at the Oxy Invite in Los Angeles.
What Harris carried with him over the weekend as he packed a bag and boarded a return flight to California was another change in mindset, specifically on the topic of competition.
“First Corinthians 6:19-20 talks about how our body is a temple of the Spirit, and that we are not our own,” Harris said. “By reminding myself that I’ve been bought with a price and I owe my ability to Christ, that helped me give it my all, and despite missing All-American by one spot, it’s given me a motivation to really put in some great training so I can best represent Him my senior year.”
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