The Gophers track and field teams advanced 14 athletes — 10 men and four women — to the NCAA championships after competing May 24-26 at the NCAA West preliminary round in Austin, Texas.
Minnesota had qualified 39 athletes for the NCAA preliminaries — 23 for the men’s team and 16 for the women’s.
Leading the way for the men was Quentin Mege, who finished second in the hammer throw. The Frenchman threw 65.61 meters, which fell short of his school record of 67.08 meters. He set that mark in a victory at the Big Ten championships May 11-13.
Mege said he was just thankful to qualify for the NCAA championships.
“I was not, obviously, coming here at all for the distance. I was getting here to punch my ticket [to nationals],” Mege said. “So, once I got a good throw, I felt just really relieved.”
This time last year, the thrower experienced different emotions at the NCAA preliminary meet.
The then-sophomore had just won the Big Ten outdoor championships in the hammer throw — just as he did this season. He had edged out his teammate Micah Hegerle by almost two-tenths of a meter.
But Mege’s postseason ended with disappointment when he finished 20th at the NCAA preliminaries and failed to advance to nationals. Hegerle managed a 10th-place finish and qualified without his fellow thrower.
This year, Hegerle qualified again with a sixth-place throw of 63.52 meters.
“I think they are both very national-caliber hammer throwers, and they belong in the final,” assistant coach Lynden Reder said.
Reder said it is beneficial to have two athletes in the same event for the last meet of the season — a luxury the team didn’t have in 2011.
“It can be fairly isolating when you’re one of the only people still training and competing,” Reder said. “To have both of the guys qualify, in terms of training, will be a huge advantage for both of them.”
Mege said having a teammate around will put him more at ease.
“It makes you feel better and makes you de-stress a little bit before the meet. So, that’s a key quality,” Mege said.’’
In addition to the throwers, several track athletes will also compete at the NCAA championships.
Harun Abda qualified in two events. He finished in the top 12 in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:49.17. His teammate David Pachuta also qualified at 1:47.78 with a spot in the top 12.
Abda’s other event is the 4x400 relay, which he runs with teammates Jacob Capek, John Holton and Kevin Bradley. They ran 3:08.11 to advance to the finals.
Nick Hutton clocked in at 3:44.64 in the 1,500 meters to qualify for the NCAA championships.
Hassan Mead won his heat of the 5,000 meters with a time of 14:16.06 and solidified his spot at nationals.
Jack Szmanda previously qualified in the decathlon and will also compete at the NCAA championships in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 6-9.
Women qualify four
The women’s 4x100-meter relay team broke Minnesota’s school record while qualifying for the NCAA championships.
The occasion wasn’t all that momentous, though, because the team had set the record just a few weeks earlier in the preliminary round of the Big Ten outdoor championships.
Todea-Kay Willis, Nyoka Giles, Chimerem Okoroji and Kylie Peterson ran the relay in 44.55 seconds May 12 and improved their time to 44.32 seconds at the NCAA preliminaries.
“I was really excited for all of us, because we finally came together and were able to do what we needed to do at the right time,” Okoroji said.
The relay has finished in the top-three consistently throughout the outdoor season while improving its time.
“We’re somewhere in the top ... 15 or so in the country now,” head coach Matt Bingle said. “So I’m pretty excited about it.”
Director of Women’s Track and Field Bingle said the entire relay works together well, and its NCAA preliminary performance exemplified that.
“Those first two legs [of] TK [Todea-Kay Willis] and Nyoka [Giles] did a great job in terms of putting us in a great place, and then Chim [Chimerem Okoroji] and Kylie [Peterson] finished it off,” Bingle said.
Although only one event finished in the top 12 and advanced to nationals, Bingle said he wasn’t disappointed with the team’s overall performance.
“They pretty much either maintained their seed [out of 48] or did better than what their seed was,” Bingle said.
Senior and captain Okoroji also said the team was satisfied with its outcome.
“I don’t think we really have any regrets,” Okoroji said. “As a team, we really came and did our best and just let everything fall where it may.”
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