Track and field travel to NCAA east prelims

WKU junior Chioma Agwunobi, left, and freshman Carrol Hardy, right, compete in the Women’s 60 Meter Dash at the Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational Track and Field on Saturday Jan. 25, 2014.(Jeff Brown/HERALD)

Jonah Phillips

21 student-athletes will represent the WKU track and field program at the NCAA East Preliminary Championships beginning Thursday, May 28 in Jacksonville, Florida.  

This marks that sixth time in eight years that WKU will send over 15 Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers to the NCAA east prelims as a result of their qualifying marks during the regular-season outdoor campaign.

The meet also marks the final stepping stone of athletes wishing to qualify for the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon that take place the second week of June. In each event at regionals, the top 12 finishers will be sent to Eugene for championship competition.

“I expect all of them to show up. If you are going to this meet, you better be ready to go,” C-USA Women’s Track and Field Coach of the Year Erik Jenkins said. “The Conference USA is good but I always tell people, the goal is always to win the conference, qualify for regionals, and qualify for the national championships. The months of May and June are crucial to what we do.”

Despite the Lady Toppers winning the Conference USA outdoor crown, the women’s side will send nine student-athletes in comparison with the men’s 12. 

“The ultimate goal at the beginning of the season was to win a conference championship,” sophomore Ventavius Sears said, a multi-event athlete.  “We fell a little bit short but the second goal was to get to regionals and to get to nationals so we are on the right track as a team—we had a good year so we are looking to move forward.”

The Hilltoppers finished third at the conference championships.

“(Ventavious) is a special kind of kid,” Jenkins said of an athlete he described as a rare bird. “The thing I like about him is he can jump and he can sprint… He does so many things; it is a good problem to have trying to figure out ‘ok, well where do we put him?’.”

Sears looks at his versatility (runs in sprint events, hurdle events, relay events, and jump events) as a strength, but understands that it comes with more responsibility.

“Since I compete in so many different events, I have to make sure I am crisp for each one and stay as perfect as possible throughout our training process,” Sears said. “Everything has been going well, coach Jenkins and Johnson have really helped me out.”

Sophomore Carrol Hardy qualified for the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes for the second time in her career, with senior Chioma Agwunobi also qualifying for the sprint events.  

“Even though (Hardy) is an underclassman, she is right up there with us.  Every day in practice I push myself and we push each other,” Agwunobi said. “Working with her has been a blessing because it keeps us focused and keeps pushing us towards our goals.”

Jenkins echoes the same enthusiasm regarding Hardy’s abilities, and says the sophomore still has lots of improvements to make.

“Carrol is extremely talented but the thing with Carrol is getting her to understand that there is a process to all of this. It is not just run out to the blocks, jump in, and say ‘oh, I’m good’.  Especially at a meet like this—everybody is good, there is a cut off for a reason,” Jenkins said. “She has had success now but not even remotely close to the success she can have if she continues to listen.”

Hardy and Agwunobi make up half of the Lady Toppers 4×100-meter relay.

Though, Jenkins said that the relays on both the men’s and women’s side will be strong.

“Well we replaced two All-Americans in the group that finished fifth in the 4×100 and fourth in the 4×400 last year in the national championship final round,” Jenkins said of the men’s relay squad.” So for them to go out and run 39.35, which is (WKU’s) second fastest time of all time—it shows we can approach it from so many different dimensions—we could run (the 4×100) three or four different ways.”

Outside of the running events, Jenkins says WKU boasts a roster that has the potential to push on into post-season play. 

“I like the direction we are heading.  A lot of the younger guys need to get better in a short amount of time,” Jenkins said. “They have to run well this meet and they have to run well the next meet in order to be recognized on the national level.”

Junior Tomas Guerra who competes in the Javelin currently holds the sixth-best toss in the country. 

Seniors Travis Gerding and Karleigh Parker also enter into regional play with top conference marks in their respective events.  Gerding is a throws athlete and Parker is a pole-vaulter and most recently, competed in the Javelin with a C-USA winning toss of 43.28 meters.

Parker also holds two pole-vaulting conference titles from the program’s time in the Sun Belt.

“At this point it is just about staying healthy and staying sharp. All the work has been done throughout the season, so now it is just trying to stay healthy and stay humble, and keep racing.”

Competition kicks off Thursday and concludes Saturday. For those who qualify, the NCAA championships take place June10-13 in Eugene, Oregon.