Portland Pilot's Taryn Rawlings took sixth place in 1,500-meter race at NCAA track championships

COURTESY PHOTO - Taryn Rawlings finished in sixth place in the 1,500-meter race at the NCAA Championships on June 9. Eugene—There is a small group of athletes in the nation who can claim to be an athletic all-American. Now, a former Wildcat is a part of the illustrious group. Wilsonville alumna and University of Portland 1,500-meter runner Taryn Rawlings claimed sixth place in the finals of the NCAA track and field championships at Hayward Field on Saturday, June 9.

Rawlings entered the NCAA championships for the second time in her track and field career. As a sophomore, Rawlings qualified for the national championship and finished 24th in the preliminary round with a time of 4 minutes, 26.91 seconds. One of the differences between last year and this year, according to Rawlings, was feeling like she really belonged.

"I would say this year was different mentally just because I was a lot less nervous than last year," Rawlings said. "Last year was my first time being there, and it was just such a big event and there was so many people, all the best athletes that I see walking around. It was really intimidating. This year, I felt a lot more comfortable there. I have run with a lot more of these girls before now, and I'm just one of them. I felt more comfortable being back."

The events leading up to the final race were ones where Rawlings shifted her in race focus. One meet before the regional competition to qualify for the national championship, Rawlings and her coach decided to focus on posting the fastest time she was able. She did. At the Portland Twilight meet, Rawlings finished in second place with a time of 4:14.50, then a 22-year old school record and personal best. Rawlings bested her personal record twice more en route to the finals of the 1,500-meter race. COURTESY PHOTO - Rawlings battled from the rear of the pack, moving from ninth place to sixth place to become an all-American.

Heading into the finals, Rawlings was amongst the top runners in the nation. Against Elinor Purrier of New Hampshire, Nikki Hull of the University of Oregon, and Nikki Hiltz of Arkansas, the Wilsonville native was going to be have to be on her A-game right from the gun. When the race started, Rawlings was stuck in the back of the pack along the inside of the track.

"My coach told me that it's probably going to go out fast, so if you can just let them go, don't be up too far," Rawlings said. "Since I was on the inside, I kind of let everyone get in front of me a little bit. I just wanted to stay as close as I could to the group without letting too much distance grow, and I stayed with them until about 800 meters, and that was kind of my goal."

After two laps, Rawlings was still hanging around the back of the pack trailing the leaders. The goal, though, for the Portland Pilot's top 1,500-meter runner was not to steal the top spot nine runners away. Rawlings had her eye on a closer target: the next woman in front of her.

"I counted, and the person in front of me was eighth, and that was the last all-American spot," Rawlings said. "I said, 'Okay, let's just focus on getting her, slowly inch away.' I was working on that." COURTESY PHOTO - Rawlings set the University of Portland record in the 1,500, a record that had been set the same year she was born: 1996.

As the final lap was coming to a close, Rawlings seized upon her chance. She poured it on in the final 200 meters, and moved from ninth place up to the number six spot. She crossed the finish line with a time of 4:11.37, yet another personal and school record.

For Rawlings, she had met her goal and succeeded. She was an all-American, and she belonged among the best runners in the nation.

"I was super excited and happy with that," Rawlings said. "The ultimate goal was getting top eight, because I was kind of just pretty happy to be in the final. Going forward I would obviously love to place a little higher next year, but I was very pleased and happy with that. I think it was a huge step forward this year."

Rawlings's success in the 1,500 is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. After coming into the University of Portland's distance running program a quality 800-meter race, the coaching staff wanted to make use of her in the 1,500 meters. It is the perfect combination of her natural speed and the endurance she built up for her schools cross country program.

Over her years of competition, Rawlings has only continued to improve. Now an all-American, she intends to continue that upward trajectory, but is hesitant on making any definite predictions as to where she will fall next year.

"It's kind of hard because I think when I put certain goals on myself, I may limit myself," Rawlings said. "This year, I think the best thing I did is I didn't have any expectations. I knew I wanted to be an all-American but other than that, I was just like, 'Well, let's see what happens during the race.' I think that is kind of the mindset I had to have because that allowed me to place higher than I imagined.

"If I put a limit on what I think I can do, then sometimes I'll hold back and I don't get as much out of myself," Rawlings continued. "I think I'm going into next year with a really open mind, and I really want to get all-American in cross country, indoor, and outdoor. Those are the concrete goals I have, but as far as placing…obviously I want to place as high as possible, but the exact placing I don't quite know yet."

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