Pierce Murphy knew, going into Friday’s 5,000-meter run at the NCAA Indoor Championship in Fayetteville, Arkansas, it would be a slow early pace.
“No one wants to take it out quick,” he said.
The University of Colorado junior and 2011 Island School graduate had a plan — a pretty simple one, really. Be patient and be ready for the ending kick.
“I just wanted to be in the right spot when the move was made,” he said.
After opening miles of 4:38 and 4:30, the pace dropped and the field spread. Murphy closed with a final mile of about 4:11.
“Once we started going fast, I was counting. I think I was eighth,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m in All-American position right now. I just need to hold it.
He actually passed four others, then was nipped in a photo finish — less than a second — with two others for fourth and fifth.
Still, Murphy finished sixth in 13 minutes, 54.36 seconds to earn his first All-American status in track and field, his third overall combined with two All-American honors in cross country at Colorado.
And yes, it feels good.
“I never really thought about All-American for track,” he said Monday. “Once I had that qualifying time (winning the 5,000 in the Husky Classic in Seattle last month in 13:39.29) I thought I could do it.”
Eric Jenkins of Oregon won in 13:48.36. Murphy’s Buffalo teammates, earned second team-team All-American status. Junior Ammar Moussa was 10th (14:01.22) and junior Morgan Pearson finished 14th (14:16.63).
“Pierce keeps surprising us,” said head coach Mark Wetmore in a press release. “He is patient and calm. I’m very happy for him.”
The Buffs took control of the race at the start, with Moussa leading the way. Murphy and Pearson were near the back of the pack the first couple of laps, but quickly worked their way up, the release said. CU had its trio in the top 10 for the majority of the race with Pearson moving up to lead for a good chunk of the race. With about 1,200 meters left, Jenkins took the lead from Pearson. Pearson wasn’t able to keep pace and gradually dropped back in the field.
As the race continued, Murphy was able to move up to sixth.
“I kicked when everyone kicked,” he said.
Murphy is the son of Shawn and Doreen Murphy of Kilauea. His dad, who flew to Arkansas to watch his son, was delighted with Pierce’s performance.
“It’s always fun to watch him run,” he said in a phone interview Monday.
And a bit hard on the nerves, too.
Shawn Murphy said at one point, Pierce was running in last place, which had papa Murphy worried.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh man, they’re all packed so close together,” he said. “It was just a tight pack up until the last three laps, when they basically sprint.”
Pierce worked his way up, charging out on a straightaway, then tucking himself into fifth and waiting for the final move. At that point, he said he felt relaxed, strong and ready for the final dash.
His dad sensed Pierce was where he wanted to be.
“I felt better about that,” Shawn Murphy said.
Coming around the final turn, Murphy surged to fourth, before being edged by two others in a photo finish. Shawn Murphy was screaming for Pierce and his teammates from the start, and the crescendo rose in the final frantic charge. Perhaps it helped.
“He ran his race and got All-American,” Shawn Murphy said. “He was happy. I was happy.”
And Pierce has more running to do for Colorado.
Next up is the outdoor track season that begins soon. He’ll focus on the 10,000, which he believes is his best event. And he has another full year to run for the Buffaloes in cross country and track. More All-American honors could be ahead.