The NCAA Championships start today and it should be a doozy!
With the NCAA moving to a pair of Regional qualifying meets this year (East & West) the meet starts with semi finals in all the events. But with each Regional meet sending 12 athletes there will be three heats for each semifinal instead of two. The result is a rather brutal 2 + 2 qualifying system to the finals for all events 800 and under – first two finishers plus the next 2 fastest times.
This will have a profound effect on the outcome of the meet as making it out of the semis will be very tough. And those squads with multiple entrants in these events will find it harder to get athletes into scoring position. Traditionally these types of semis when run in major meets result in faster times in the semis than the finals – as everyone is running for their life and many have difficulty recovering and replicating their efforts in the final. This too can affect the over all outcome of the meet.
With that scenario laid out the meet opens up with the 4x1 relays and just about every major contender for the team title has a team entered. On the men’s side keep an eye on the teams from Florida (38.81 national leaders), Texas A&M, LSU, Florida State, and Mississippi State as all could be in the team hunt by meet’s end. Likewise on the women’s side of the ledger watch for Texas A&M, LSU, and Oregon as they begin to position themselves for runs at the team title.
The Oregon men won’t be involved in the 4x1 but minutes later will start their own qualifying with Andrew Wheating contesting the 800. Only LSU among the sprint oriented squads has an entrant (Richard Jones) expected to factor here.
On the team front also keep very close tabs on the men’s and women’s 400 and 100 meter events. In the men’s 400 Calvin Smith (Fl), Tony Mc Quay (Fl), Tabarie Henry (Tx A&M), Demetrius Pinder (Tx A&M), Tavarius Tate (MsSt) Dwight Mullings (MsSt) and Kevin Borlee (Fl St) will all be looking to move forward to secure valuable team points – as well as position for the individual title. While Kirani James (Al) won’t be involved in the team hunt he is a threat to win gold here. On the women’s side Keshia Baker (Or) and Jessica Beard (Tx A&M) will be looking to move on for team points. While Francena McCorory (Hampton) and Joanna Atkins (Aub) will be looking for solid lane placement in the finals, as this foursome should be battling it out for the title on Friday.
The 100 is also loaded with team title hopes. For the men, Jeff Demps (Fl), Terrell Wilks (Fl), Curtis Mitchell (Tx A&M) and Gerald Phiri (Tx A&M) will be looking to move on for those valuable team points. But keep an eye of Marcus Rowland (Aub) and Ahmad Rashad (USC) as they have the best shot at challenging Demps for the individual title. The women also have team title points looming here with Porscha Lucas (Tx A&M), Jeneba Tarmoh (Tx A&M), Samantha Henry (LSU), and Takeia Pinckney (LSU) in the mix. Watch Blessing Okgabare (UTEP) however, as she tries to get in position for a shot at a possible double here and in long jump.
Individually the 400H qualifying starts with a pair of potential champions trying to move into position as Jeshua Anderson (WaSt) – already a two time champion looking to defend – and Johnny Dutch who moved into the #4 position all time collegiately with his 48.12 at Regionals, run the first round of what should be one of the best head to head matchups of the meet. Meanwhile the women begin what should be a great double dual in the hurdles as Ti’erra Brown (Miami) and Queen Harrison (Va Tech) start round one in the long hurdles before moving on to the 100 hurdles later in the week.
There will be three finals today – men’s discus and triple jump and the women’s 10000. Keep an eye on Christian Taylor (Fl) in the triple jump. He’s the favorite in the event and could get the Gators started with big points in this event. More importantly watch the points of Florida #2 Omar Craddock. If Craddock can score here Florida begins the meet with a big advantage over Oregon and Texas A&M – forcing everyone else to potentially have to play catch up the rest of the meet.
Also keep an eye on Lisa Koll (Iowa St) in the 10000. She’s the collegiate record holder in the event, and with a day’s rest following before she takes to the track again for the 5000, look for her to lay down a very nice time in this race.
Opening day should be packed with action and drama. That 2+2 qualifying has the potential to wreak havoc on form charts and title hopes. The semis may be more important than the finals themselves when it comes to deciding the eventual team titles.