The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

NCAA Championships – Day Three Preview

Jun 11th, 2010
7:02 am PST
Jun 11, 2009; Fayetteville, AR; Brianne Thiesen of Oregon cleared 5-8 3/4 (1.75m) for 916 points in the heptathlon high jump in the NCAA Track and Field Championships at John McDonnell Field. Photo via Newscom

The second day of semi finals went off without a hitch – though the men looked a bit sluggish in their qualifying heats of the 200. Still, Texas A&M moved two men into the final – Curtis Mitchell & Gerald Phiri – and Mitchell and Rondell Sorrillo (Kentucky) appear to be the men to beat at this point. The first sprint event without a Florida Gator in the final. The Aggie women lead the way in their qualifying as Porscha Lucas dropped a sizzling 22.49 in her heat to take over the collegiate lead. Teammate Jeneba Tarmoh lead the other qualifiers into the final. LSU also moved two into the final, but Samantha Henry & Takeia Pinckney were only able to garner the final two spots – and neither looked sharp – leading me to believe that at this point it is clearly going to be between the Aggies and the Ducks for the team title.

Speaking of the Ducks, the Oregon women moved two into the 1500 final – Hasay & Kosinsky – and just missed out on a third as Buckman was the next best time. Double points here could give them a slight edge in the team race. Hard to call a favorite for the final as the top athletes were clearly conserving, but Follett still looks like a good call to me. The Duck men also helped their cause in the 1500, moving three into the final – Wheating, Acosta & Centrowitz – keeping themselves on track in the team race.

Alas the hurdles, 100H & 110H are lacking anyone of stature that will matter in the team race, but Ronnie Ash showed himself to clearly be the class of the men’s field as he cruised to a 13.32 in his semi. Likewise Queen Harrison (12.68) & Ti’erra Brown (12.74) were clearly the class of the women’s event and are headed towards two showdowns in the finals.

And speaking of the class of the field, Oregon is dominating the multi events in this meet. Ashton Eaton set a PR for the first day with a huge score of 4500 to lead all qualifiers by over 250 points. At his current pace he could well set a new CR before the end of the day tomorrow. Meanwhile teammate Brianne Thiesen completed her heptathlon with a PR 6094 points – 412 ahead of runner up Kiani Profit of Maryland.

Otherwise 4×4 qualifying went as expected with all the anticipated suspects making it through – the Florida men and Texas A&M women looking particularly impressive.

There were four field event finals, with only the men’s javelin really affecting the team hunt. Sam Humphrey’s (Tx A&M) finished in 4th here which was off of most projections – and he really needed to finish higher to keep the Aggies close enough to the Ducks and Gators. The tile went to Craig Kinsley (Brown) in what most would consider an upset. Ditto the pole vault win of Jordan Scott (Kan) in a competition marred rain. Patricia Mamona (Clemson) in the triple jump and Nikola Lamnicka (Georgia) in the Hammer, rounded out the days field event winners.

Now with the qualifying behind us, its two days of finals. The easy call is the decathlon, where Eaton should guarantee the Ducks 10 points and a big start to their title chase. We also have team hopes riding in the balance on the field today. In the men’s long jump Ashton Eaton will be trying to get points for Oregon after finishing up his duties in the decathlon. A daunting task under any conditions, but he will have to do so against triple jump champion Christian Taylor of rival Florida and Texas footballer Marquis Goodwin. Krytonite finally hits Eaton in the form of Taylor and fatigue as Taylor and Goodwin should duel it out here with Taylor prevailing and keeping Gator title hopes alive.

Those hopes could be aided with a high finish by Gator shot putter Kemel Mesic. The individual title should go to Ryan Whiting (AzSt) as he wins the shot to go along with the Discus title he picked up on Wednesday. Whiting is the star of this event at the collegiate level and is threatening to become one of the world’s best. He nails this down early with Mesic looking for a top three finish to go along with Florida points in the LJ, 100 & 400.

And yes, I expect Eaton to finally hit Krytonite, but not until after he crushes the field in the decathlon. And on his current pace he could give Tree Hardee’s collegiate record (8465) a scare in the process. And if Eaton is trying to be Superman today, then Blessing Okgabare will be doing her Supergirl impression as she will be attempting to win titles in the 100 and here in the long jump. She should win this event as she has been the best jumper all season and her speed is sharp. Behind her look for Jamesha Youngblood (Or) and Vashti Thomas (Tx A&M) to battle it out for valuable team points.

on the track the 400 hurdles feature two of the meet’s premier match ups. The men’s event will pit two time defending champ Jesjua Anderson (WaSt) against yearly leader Johnny Dutch (S Car). Both have looked good of late, and their qualifying times were only hundredths of a second apart. Dutch is #4 all time college off of his performance at Regionals, but I’ve got to go with Anderson. He’s always come up big when he’s needed to from high school to now (former HS record holder). He’s a two time champion in this event, and he’s just stronger than everyone else at this level in the stretch. Dutch will give him a good race, but Anderson pulls it out in the end.

Another tough call for the women. Maybe tougher because neither woman has a storied history as both have really emerged this year. I picked Harrison early on, but lately have moved to Brown – mostly off the strength of how she’s run the 4×4. Harrison seems a bit quicker, Brown a bit stronger. So I’m giving Brown the nod here.

Next will come the 100 meters. And while this event can often come down to a lean and a photo, I think both have clear winners. Jeff Demps (Fl) has been the man in this event all season long and looked easy in his semi. Marcus Rowland (Aub) and Rondell Sorrillo (Ken) will provide the toughest competition, but look for Demps to have a Mo Greene like surge mid race and put it away while fueling Florida’s title hopes. Ditto Blessing Okagbare (UTEP) who seems to be just a cut above the others with her long finishing strides. The one caveat here is if Jeneba Tarmoh, who suddenly got hot at Regionals, can nail her start. If she does look for a lean and a photo at the tape.

With Demps winning the 100 the focus will immediately move to the 800 where Andrew Wheating will be looking to match points for Oregon. Wheating is the defending NCAA champion, having won a very close race with a .06 victory in 1:46.21 last year – this year’s race could end up being just as close. Virginia’s Robbie Andrews moved himself into the title hunt with a strong looking 1:45.54 win in his semi – dangerously close to Wheating’s PR of 1:45.03. Wheating needs a win here to keep Oregon on pace with Florida, while Andrews will be looking to add the outdoor title to the indoor title he won earlier this winter. I’ve been calling for a Wheating win here all spring, and will stick with it, with Wheating’s height giving him an advantage at the lean – but I won’t be surprised if Andrews pulls it off. The women’s qualifying went pretty much to form, and I still like Tennessee’s Phoebe Wright for the title. Don’t expect LaTavia Thomas (LSU) to give up the title without a fight – especially with the Tiger’s not performing up to par and desperately needing big points from her. Ditto for Oregon’s Anne Kesselring who will be trying to keep the Ducks in the title race against the Aggies of A&M.

The title races will heat up after the men’s steeplechase (I’m still going with BYU’s Nelson here) with two very hot 400 meter finals. The men’s race is very deep with several talented young men toeing the line. Calvin Smith (Fl), Demetrius Pinder (Tx A&M) and Tabarie Henry (Tx A&M) all need to come up big here for their teams. Joey Hughes (USC), Kirani James (Ala) and Tavaris Tate (MsSt) are all capable of winning the thing. Look for Tate and Hughes out early with the others chasing in the stretch. Watch the 300 mark. If the field let’s Tate get too far ahead, it’s a wrap. If any of the strong finishers is smart and stays close through 300 they can win it – especially James or Smith. My guess is that Tate heads out and says “catch me if you can”, and no one does. Keep an eye on the Florida and Texas A&M points behind him and the ground eating strides of Kirani James up the final stretch.

The women face a similar situation with Keshia Baker (Or) and Jessica Beard (Tx A&M) carrying team hopes along with individual. And Joanna Atkins (Aub) & Francena McCorory looking to nail down a national title. McCorory stunned indoors with a blazing 50.54 title run, while more recently Baker sizzled 50.76 to take the Pac10 title outdoors. Atkins won the title last year in 50.39 with Beard 2nd (50.56), McCorory 3rd (50.58) and Baker 5th (51.29) in tow – so there is history with these women. They all PR’d at this meet last year and I suspect they will again. This year I give the edge to Baker. She seems to be a more mature sprinter this time around and running at home she may find a bit of energy rounding the Bowerman curve that the others may not enjoy. The fight up the home straight will be fierce, however, as McCorory and Atkins looked hungry in the semis and Beard and Baker’s teams are in the title hunt. Should be one of the best races of the meet.

The meet will close the same as yesterday – with Sam Chalenga (Lilberty) looking to win another title. He looked ridiculously easy as he literally put it in cruise control and ran away from the field in winning the 10000 last night. He seriously looked like he was out for a stroll while everyone behind him was racing. I’ve had Northern Arizona’s David McNeill here all year and I’ll stick with it, but man he’s gonna have to get on his horse and go to keep Chalenga off the top of the podium.

It should be one exciting afternoon/evening of track and field. By the end of today we’ll be able to take a serious look at the team battles and see where things sit heading into tomorrow’s final day.

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