Outdoor Track Descends Upon East Prelims
ALBANY, N.Y. – Last week, the NCAA announced the accepted entries for its East and West Preliminary Track & Field Championships. The University at Albany outdoor track program, which resides in the East region, garnered 10 acceptances, seven men and three women, into the East Preliminary field.
“This is the biggest group we’ve had attending East Prelims under this format,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives, “and I think three or four have a real shot to make it to NCAA Championships in Oregon.”
The current format Coach Vives describes identifies the top-48 athletes in each individual event in each region for participation in each preliminary championship. Only competitors who rank within the top-48 declared performances will receive an invitation. For relays, a team has to rank within the top-24. Moving on to NCAA Championships requires a competitor to place within the top-12 in his or her respective preliminary championship.
“Everyone is on schedule for a personal best,” Vives said. “We had tremendous performance at IC4A and ECAC Championships. Team-wise, it was our best performance ever.”
After IC4A and ECAC Championships concluded, the Great Danes had come to the end of a six-week stretch in which they competed each weekend. That time also coincided with the end of the semester, and all of the stresses that come with year-end papers, projects, and exams. But now all of that is over, allowing for a singular focus for this week.
“Some of the student-athletes took a couple of days to go home, to refresh their batteries,” Vives said. “And with the holiday weekend, it was a good time to get refreshed. There is no more school now, no more exams or final grades, so they can focus on the meet almost exclusively.”
The roster of UAlbany competitors includes Robert Harris III in the men’s 100, Jason Tomlinson in the men’s 400, Grace Claxton in the women’s 400, Matthew Campbell and Kingsley Ogbonna in the men’s high jump, Nathan Hiett in the men’s pole vault, Devon Willis and Jordan Crump-King in the men’s triple jump, Alexx Baum in the women’s triple jump, and Veleisha Walker in the women’s javelin.
“Eight of the 10 making the trip will be doing so for the first time,” said Vives. “Nathan went last year in the pole vault, and Alexx went last year while she was still at Binghamton. But by this point in the season, those who remain are the elites of the program, and they know how to prepare for a meet like this. And even our choices in how we ran the America East Championship, with the boxes for warmup attire and escorting competitors to their events, mirrored the NCAA format. It was good preparation for what we have in front of us.”
“I tell the student-athletes that they are representing their conference now,” Vives continued. “At this point in the season, conference rivalries don’t have the same intensity.”
Regardless of what happens this week, the Great Danes will have a handful of student-athletes competing later into the season and over the summer. Three student-athletes will compete in in the Junior National Championships, designated for those under the age of 20. Kyle Gronostaj will be running in the 10,000, Tyler Ranke will run the 3,000 steeplechase, and Willis will compete in the triple jump. Willis currently ranks fourth in the triple jump in the country among junior athletes, as well as 27th in the world among juniors. The top two finishers at junior nationals earn berths into the Pan American Junior Championships in Edmonton, Canada at the end of July. Additionally, Claxton has been contacted by the Puerto Rican Athletics Federation as a selection for the relay pool that will compete at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August.
“The amount of student-athletes we have competing late into the season, and the level of representation we have internationally shows that the program is progressing forward,” Vives said. “The program is moving in the right direction as the student-athletes buy into the idea of America East and beyond. The culture is changing. We’re aspiring to bigger and better things.”
“We really try to make this a fun trip,” Vives continued. “Kind of like a celebration of the season, and as a way for us to thank the student-athletes for a good year. The meet starts later in the afternoon because of the heat in Jacksonville, so most of the events are under the lights. It creates an electrifying atmosphere that our student-athletes haven’t really experienced this year. There is nothing but positive energy, and we hope that everyone can finish the year on a positive note.”
East Prelims will take place at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, starting on Thursday, May 28 and concluding on Sunday, May 31.