AUSTIN, Texas – Three days of action at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds came to a close on Saturday from Mike A. Myers Stadium, and the Kansas State track and field team put out some of the best relay times in school history while also qualifying in two more events for the upcoming NCAA Championship in two weeks.
Back-to-back Big 12 champion Kyle Wait punched his ticket to his second straight NCAA Championship on Saturday afternoon. The pole vaulters had to battle light rains early on in the competition, but the rains halted midway through and Wait used the opportunity to come up big in a tight situation.
Entering the sixth bar of the competition, Wait was in seventh place and found himself fighting for a spot at the championship meet when he missed his first two attempts at 5.40 meters (17-08.50). Some athletes below Wait had cleared the bar and moved ahead of him in the standings, and if he had missed his third attempt there was a possibility of a jump-off for a spot in Eugene. Instead, Wait cleared the bar on his third attempt and ended up in 11th place to secure another trip to the championship.
In the evening, the men’s 4x100 relay opened the running events in a strong fashion for the Wildcats.
A group of freshman helped provide the spark for the Wildcats to advance to the NCAA Championship in the 4x100 with the trio of Jordan Oakry, Tyris Jefferson and Ifeanyi Otuonye joining Carlos Rodriguez. The Wildcats combined for the No. 4 time in school history and finished third in their heat to grab an automatic spot to the NCAA Championship at 39.85 seconds.
Oakry ran a strong opening leg before handing off to Rodriguez, who helped push the Wildcats near the lead at the second handoff. Jefferson ran an impressive curve on the third leg to put the Wildcats in a battle for third place when he handed to Otuonye. On the final stretch, Otuonye was neck and neck with Washington in the next lane when he grabbed the baton and found the speed to pull away from the Huskies and a charging Houston to cross the line in 39.85 seconds.
K-State trailed Arkansas and Iowa in its heat and was able to hold off Houston and take an automatic spot to the NCAA Championship. Houston was fourth and did snatch one of the three available spots based on time. The Wildcats’ heat was the fastest in terms of depth with two of those at-large spots coming from the second heat.
“We qualified fairly well, I thought,” said K-State Head Coach Cliff Rovelto on the entire meet. “There were a couple of potential losses but we also had a couple of qualifierse that were significant improvements, like the 4x100 and Erica Twiss in the 400 hurdles.
“It’s been a very solid year overall and the group going to NCAA’s should be very competitive.”
After seeing significant amounts of rain on Friday and a six-hour delay, Saturday’s meet saw more rain early on but no delays. The men’s hammer throw, javelin and pole vault and women’s triple jump all had to deal with rains before the weather subsided. Redshirt freshman Ivan Hartung had to deal with the rain during the javelin and posted a throw of 64.48 meters (211-06) to finish in 21st place. Freshman Alyssa Kelly battled the conditions and finished 37th in the triple jump with her mark of 12.00 meters (39-04.50).
Senior pole vaulter Cameron Savage joined Wait in the competition and was the first vaulter of the day to attempt to clear the bar in the rain. He managed to clear the opening height on his third attempt before being eliminated at the next bar. His clearance of 4.90 meters (16-0.75) on his third attempt put him in 41st place.
Following the completion of the pole vault, the Wildcats had a long break in the action with no other events until the opening of running events in the evening. K-State opened the running with both the women’s and men’s 4x100 relays in action. At 6 p.m. the duo of Jacquelyne Leffler and Dani Winters also was in action in the women’s shot put.
K-State’s group of Twiss, Richelle Farley, Samantha McKnight and Jasmine Gibbs ran 45.51 in the 4x100 to finish seventh in their heat and 19th overall. Then the men ran their fastest time of the year to qualify for the NCAA Championship.
Leffler was competing in her second event of the weekend after qualifying for the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds in the discus as well. She was unable to return to the NCAA Championship this year as she ended her career at K-State after fouling in the shot put. Winters found herself in 42nd place as the redshirt freshman posted a mark of 14.33 meters (47-00.25).
Carlos Rodriguez grabbed an automatic spot in the quarterfinals of the 200 meters by finishing third in his heat of the 200 meters late Friday night following the rain delay. In the quarterfinals, Rodriguez ran 21.16 seconds and finished fifth in his heat. Following his heat he was on the cutline to receive a spot at the championship meet, but then two non-auto qualifiers ran faster in the final heat and knocked him out of contention.
The day ended with the 4x400 relays, and the Wildcats were one of 13 schools trying to get both its men’s and women’s 4x400 teams through to the NCAA Championship.
K-State’s women ran their fastest time of the season at 3:38.60 to rank fifth in school history, but it was not enough to advance to the NCAA Championship. The group of Sonia Gaskin, Sarah Kolmer, Meryl Mbeng and Tia Gamble finished 19th overall.
The men’s squad came in with a solid chance to qualify ranked 14th in the region. Unfortunately, the Wildcats finished 13th and one spot out of reaching the NCAA meet. Otuonye, Jefferson and Rodriguez teamed up with Chris Campbell to run 3:07.40 and finish fourth in their heat, but it was not fast enough to grab one of the at-large spots based on time. The time did rank fourth in school history.
In addition to Wait and the men’s 4x100 qualifying on Saturday, the Wildcats saw Erik Kynard advance in the high jump along with Jharyl Bowry in the long jump to give K-State four total qualifiers for the NCAA Championship this week in Austin. Friday saw Twiss and Martina Tresch both qualify for the women individually as well.
The five individual Wildcats plus the men’s 4x100 who qualified for the NCAA Championship this week will join the pair of decathletes, Tomas Kirielius and Reinis Kregers, who already qualified for the meet in Eugene, Ore., in two weeks. The championship meet will be held at historic Hayward Field, June 5-8.