DES MOINES – Rebekah Topham literally fell flat on her face in her return to Drake Stadium. Shortly thereafter, she realized she had conjured up perhaps her finest moment on the blue oval.
The setting was familiar for the Wichita State freshman, who won 11 Class 1-A state track titles on the same track as a high-schooler at Griswold. With a crowd of supporters in the stands at a soaked Drake Relays on Saturday afternoon, she knew she couldn’t treat this like any ordinary 1,500-meter run.
So when Topham reached the last 100 meters in a dead heat with multiple contenders, she kicked hard. Her leaning attempt at the finish line turned into an all-out sprawl before she discovered the good news: She crossed in 4 minutes, 23.09 seconds – .04 ahead of Drake’s Emma Huston.
“I’ve never struggled that much at the end of a race,” Topham said. “I could barely pick up my legs – I could barely even move. I’ve never been that tired at the last part.”
Her effort was a career personal best by 1.93 seconds in the event. It also took a toll: She had to be helped off the track and sported a bloody right elbow, red scratches on her hip and bruises on her knees. She spent 15 minutes afterward under the stadium pacing, stretching and vomiting into a garbage bin while her mother, Lori, sat with her. And feelings of dizziness and lightheadedness lingered longer than usual for the longtime standout.
Topham – who already owned two white Drake Relays title flags from winning the 1,500 and 3,000 as a prep freshman – said Saturday’s trials were more than worth it.
“I’ve been trying to get another Drake title since freshman year,” Topham said. “I was really wanting it; the last 100 meters I was like, ‘I’ve got to go.’ I have so many memories on this track, so many. To get another PR on this track is awesome.”
The four-time Class 1-A state champ in the 1,500 began as she usually does, hanging at the back of the 13-woman pack in the early going. She moved up to third after 700 meters, then second after 1,000 before taking her first lead on the home stretch.
“Whenever it’s close you always feel like the other person wins – I don’t know, maybe that’s just me,” said Topham while managing a smile.
Four other athletes with area ties captured top-six medals in Saturday college finals.
In the women’s shuttle hurdle relay, Treynor alum Chaley Rath ran a clean third leg for Northern Iowa, which finished second in the four-school final at 55.59. And former Glenwood standout Derek Jones completed the men’s 400 hurdles race in 51.98 seconds for Iowa State to take fifth out of a field of 32. He was less than a hundredth of a second out of third place.
Missouri River Conference standout and Sioux City East grad Carter Lilly anchored the winning 1,600 sprint medley relay for Iowa, taking the final handoff and crossing in 3:18.53 – more than four full seconds ahead of runner-up Illinois. Another one-time MRC star, Sioux City Heelan product Justin Baker, claimed the men’s hammer for Northern Iowa by hurling a 212-8½, which was more than eight inches better than any other comer.
Nebraska added an individual-event champion as sophomore Nick Percy defended his Drake title in the discus. From Ventnor, England, Percy landed the winning toss of 57.14 meters on his first attempt despite the steady rain and wind. The mark is only .74 meters – or about 2½ feet – off his personal outdoor best.
“It’s good to know if I can hit 57 in this, then in dry conditions I should still be able to throw 58 or 59,” Percy said. “Back home in the U.K., this weather is kind of a normal day for us. Not really this bad – this is the worst I’ve ever thrown in – but you prepare as well as you can.”
Percy brought plenty of towels and plastic bags to try to keep dry but said it proved mostly ineffective in the chilly driving rain. He added it was a relief to start so well, especially with his hands not getting any warmer as the morning wore on.
The NU thrower also took fourth in the hammer with a mark of 203 feet, 5 3/4 inches.