Eric Avila won something.
LA GRANDE — Eric Avila won something.
While that's no longer an original concept, this is actually a new one: Avila, who just completed a historic senior season at Southern Oregon University, was voted the Cascade Collegiate Conference Men's Track and Field Athlete of the Year, the league office announced on Thursday.
The honor came a day before Avila became the first runner at the Jim Ryun Festival of Miles since 1988 to break a four-minute mile Thursday night in a victorious effort at Balboa Stadium.
The three-time NAIA champion is SOU's first men's track and field athlete to attain the AOTY honor since Richard Bailey in 2002. He's the first Raider athlete to get it in any sport since Jackie Speer was named the 2010 CCC Women's Basketball Player of the Year.
"I feel honored," Avila said. "The Cascade Conference is such a competitive one. I must credit my competition within the conference for pushing me to be the best I can right now and in the future."
His best was also the best in the country in the 1,500-meter race this spring at the NAIA Outdoor Championships, in the distance medley relay earlier this year at the NAIA Indoor Championships, and at the NAIA Cross Country Championships during the fall.
Racing in front of dozens of friends and family from his nearby hometown of Chula Vista, Calif., Avila won the men's elite mile race in 3:56.89, his fastest time ever in the mile.
At the Jim Ryun Festival on Friday, Avila, who is set to graduate next week, upset former University of Oregon All-American A.J. Acosta, a rival of Avila's in high school. Acosta finished second in 3:57.05.
Avila was the Male Athlete of the Meet at the CCC Track and Field Championships, where he helped the Raider men capture their second straight title with wins in the 1,500- and 5,000-meter races and a runner-up finish in the 800.
He posted the best times of his career in the 800 (1:50.83), 1,500 (3:42.18) and 5,000 (13:43.05) this spring. That 5K time allowed him to pull off a stunning victory among elite NCAA Division I competition at the Stanford Invitational, and the 1,500 time made him a tight runner-up to Olympian Matthew Centrowitz at the Oregon Relays. Both marks are now SOU records.
In cross country, he won the CCC title by a margin of 16 seconds and the NAIA title by 19 seconds. SOU hadn't produced a cross country champ or a track and field running champ since 1978 at the national level.
College of Idaho's Hillary Holt, who was also an NAIA cross country, 1,500-meter and distance medley relay champion, was named the CCC Women's Track and Field Athlete of the Year.