Allie Ostrander is off to a good — and swift — start in her defense of her national steeplechase championship.
The Kenai Central graduate won her semifinal heat Thursday with the day's fastest time at the NCAA Division I track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Ostrander, a Boise State sophomore who won last year's steeplechase title, sailed to victory in 9 minutes, 45.99 seconds. She'll be the favorite in a field of 12 in Saturday's finals at Hayward Field.
Ostrander won her heat by nearly four seconds over second-place Charlotte Prouse of New Mexico (9:49.78); those two turned the race into a two-woman battle that Ostrander clearly controlled.
Her time was more than two seconds faster than the winner of the other semifinal, Grayson Murphy of Utah (9:48.57).
Ostrander's personal-best in the steeplechase is 9:38.57, registered earlier this season at the Stanford Invitational. She won the steeplechase at last year's NCAA championships in 9:41.31.
The NCAA meet record in the steeplechase is 9:24.41, set in 2016 by New Mexico's Courtney Frerich. The Hayward Field record is 8:58.78, recorded last year by Kenya's Cellipine Chespol.
Saturday will be a busy day for Ostrander. She's running in two finals — the steeplechase, which starts at 2:54 p.m. ADT, and the 5,000 meters, which begins about 90 minutes later at 4:25 p.m. ADT.
A year ago, 80 minutes separated the start times of those two races, and Ostrander pulled off an impressive double by winning the steeplechase and placing fourth in the 5,000.
ESPN (cable Channel 34) is planning coverage of Saturday's finals.