Something mystical -or, if nothing else, years of simple building upon building- worked tangibly for Ahmed Haji at the climactic turn of his fourth and final PC track season.
By sheer grace, or a hefty dollop of drive, or an exponentially escalating package of proficiency, or all of the above, the track spirits finally gleamed in approval at an all-seasons runner of an endless cross-country trophy case but an inverse shortage of equivocal track and field accomplishments.
After he had snuffed out on his first three stabs at a ticket to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Haji made a charm out of the fourth attempt and is set to take one last hustle in PC attire a good month after he was handed his degree. Together with female associates and outdoor championship veterans Katie DiCamillo and Danette Doetzel, he will represent the Friars in Des Moines, Iowa, on the campus of host Drake University (yesterday's home of PC's new men's basketball skipper, Keno Davis).
Haji and DiCamillo will each run through their respective 5,000 meter semifinals Wednesday evening, the ladies going first at 8:10, the men to follow at 8:50. Doetzel will carry out her one-shot deal in the 10,000 meter dash Thursday night, the cue-gun going off for her group at 8:10.
Should either Haji or DiCamillo advance, they will hang about for Friday's meter finals, the women to go at 9:15 p.m. and the men immediately following at 9:35.
Haji, a four-time veteran of the NCAA cross country championships, earned his passport here on April 24 with a nip-and-tuck finish at the Penn Relays, where he hadn't earned any glamour since he went there in 2004 as a senior with Conard High School. Coming back in the form of a ripe collegian, he finished sixth among 31 5,000m dashers, logging a flashy 13:57.01 running time.
Between PC's four student-athletes of the year (Haji was distinguished under the male individual sport heading), Doetzel is the only one with still another year to work with in Friartown. And between this year's trinity of track elites, she's the one branding the progressive archetype.
In the not-too-distant past, Doetzel has made 5,000 meters her specialty. She went 12th overall in the final round of that very event a year ago in Sacramento with a 16:27.67 finish. Three months ago, accompanied by the Friars' mile-run connossieur Hayden McLaren, she clocked in at 16:36.04 to finish 13th in a final pool of 16 at the Arkansas-hosted indoor championships.
She has, more or less, "graduated" in the short time since. In Arkansas, she was one of the final 16 standing in the 5,000m event, where she finished 13th overall within 16:36.04.
Since then, during this outdoor season, she has laid claim to the Big East throne for 10,000m competitors. Doetzel completed that venture in a matter of 33:27.64 for first place in the conference final May 3, plenty to fulfill the NCAA qualification criteria.
Earning the option of a double-dip in both the 5,000 and 10,000 runs this week, Doetzel chose the latter option by itself. And so, she leaves the 5,000 legacy solely in the hands of DiCamillo, who fell a few gusts short of joining her in last year's finals.
DiCamillo, who at the 2007 indoor bonanza logged an identical 13th-place finish in the indoor 5,000 meter run (16:23.28 time), stamped her passport to Des Moines less than two weeks ago in the East Regionals. She claimed fourth-place by means of a 16:48, only fifteen seconds ahead of a fifth-place, shortcoming Friar friend in Krystal Douglas.
DiCamillo, Doetzel's fellow junior and a cross-country ace like Doetzel and Haji both, will look to better last year's semi-final run of 16:26.13, which placed her 12th in that tour and on the sidelines to watch her teammate, who finished twelve seconds and a slim three slots ahead of her.