Arrigoni completes jump from small town to big stage

Catie Arrigoni (left) will join two EWU teammates at the NCAA Division 1 national meet in Eugene, OR. - Eastern Washington University photo
Catie Arrigoni (left) will join two EWU teammates at the NCAA Division 1 national meet in Eugene, OR. – Eastern Washington University photo

Oroville grad qualifies for NCAA D-1 national meet

CHENEY – A bet to get her high school teammate to play soccer, a community college basketball scholarship and the discovery of a new sport were just the beginning for Catie Arrigoni.

The 2011 Oroville High School graduate, now attending Eastern Washington University, ran cross country her senior year only to seal an agreement to get then-freshman Sierra Speiker to join her on the girls soccer team. But on Saturday, Arrigoni qualified for the NCAA Division 1 national meet in the 3-kilometer steeplechase with a school-record performance on Saturday.

Arrigoni will run on college track’s most hallowed ground next week at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field – onetime home of such track and field luminaries as Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp – to compete for a national title.

Arrigoni is completing her first year at EWU after attending Everett Community College for two years, only one of which she ran track.

For taking up the steeplechase just last year, it was quite a leap for Arrigoni to go from Class 2B small high school competition to the community college ranks to the highest level of collegiate competition.

Steeplechase is not run at the high school level (at least not Washington Interscholastic Activities Association-sanctioned races), but usually runs three kilometers (about two miles) and involves hurdling over five immovable barriers. One of those barriers includes a water jump that is 12 feet wide, with water depth decreasing from 28 inches deep at the base of the barrier, to track level at its furthest from the barrier (rewarding runners with the best jumping ability).

Arrigoni said at first the move up to NCAA Division 1 was intimidating, especially during cross country season last fall, but she adjusted once she realized she belonged at that level.

“The ‘shock and awe period’ was for sure the competition,” she said. “We are competing against the best schools and it can be a little scary when you look to your left and right and you are between a Baylor and OSU girl on the starting line. By track, however, I was used to it and would tell myself I could compete with these girls instead of freaking myself out.”

That attitude served her well last Friday in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the NCAA West Regional was held. Arrigoni was seeded 26th in the field of three heats; the top three in each heat and next top three times (12 total) would advance to the national meet.

She jumped past 14 women seeded ahead of her to claim the 12th and final national finals berth.

” I made the jump by not being stressed out,” Arrigoni said. “I knew going into the race I’d put in all the work I needed to. I trusted my training and worked hard.”

She said that consistency was the key, as well as realizing that the mental aspect of running was as important as the physical.

“When that clicked for me, I had my break though,” she said.

Arrigoni said she stuck to the front of the pack as long as she could, knowing that the top three finishers automatically moved on regardless of time.

“Some dropped off, so that helped a lot because we just kept picking it up,” she said. “It ended up being a race to the finish for third between me two others.”

Arrigoni ended up fifth in her heat, short of the automatic qualifier. She had to wait to see if her school record time of 10:14.99 would claim one of the three at-large spots.

“I didn’t think I’d made it,” she said.

But make it she did, joining teammate Emma Murrilo as just the 10th and 11th EWU women to make the NCAA national meet in school history. Arrigoni is also just the second EWU distance runner ever to qualify for nationals.

“It was a gutsy performance for Catie, who is only in her second year of running the steeple,” EWU women’s coach Marcia Mecklenburg said on the Eagles’ team website.

“Going in I had so much support from coaches, teammates, and people from other schools that it helped me believe I had a chance,” Arrigoni said. “I knew I had to put myself in the top pack to have a chance so that is what I did. I got out fast, put myself in top six and went with it.

“I had the thought going in, I made it here so I may as well go for it.”

Arrigoni was coming off a championship performance at the Big Sky Conference championship the previous week, where she battled the 6,900 foot altitude to win the steeplechase (10:58.30) and take second in the 5,000-meter run.

She added that having supportive teammates made all the difference both in making the transition to the Division 1 track, as well as to a new school.

“I went from one family to another,” Arrigoni said. “I have been blessed with the best two teams; I have such a loving and supportive team behind me.”