Track and Field Advances Four to National Championships
A total of 15 Harvard student-athletes qualified for the NCAA Eastern Preliminary Meet for track and field. After three days of competition, four athletes in five events will advance to the National Outdoor Championships.
Senior Nikki Okwelogu was the first member of the group of athletes to break to the meet in Eugene, Ore. Advancing on day two in the discus throw, the senior was followed by sophomore Gabby Thomas in the 100-meter, Senior Jade Miller in the 400-meter hurdles, men’s co-captain Efe Uwaifo in triple jump, and Thomas again in the 200-meter.
The first day of competition consisted of mostly preliminary races and senior Brett Henderson was the first up for the group. The Heps champion in the javelin, Henderson threw the instrument 62.90 meters to place 15th in the field of 48. As the top 12 advance to nationals, Henderson missed qualifying by 1.77 meters. Freshman Simi Fajemisin also competed in the field on the first day of competition. The freshman ultimately finished 35th in the long jump competition with a leap of 5.91 meters.
Thomas led off for the runners. Competing in the 100-meter dash, the Florence, Mass., native won her heat and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the race, which will take place on Friday. Miller highlighted the evening in the 400-meter dash with a 57.31 second finish—the second- fastest time of the day—to advance to the quarterfinals.
Sophomore Myles Marshall rounded things out for the evening, taking 22nd in the 800-meter with a time 1:50.14, missing the quarterfinals in the event.
On the second day of competition, several Crimson athletes punched their tickets to Oregon. Okwelogu got things rolling with a second place overall finish in discus throw, which will be Friday’s first event. With the 55.56 meter throw—the second best throw of her career—the senior will make her third appearance at the national championships and second in discus.
Running first on the evening, junior Jay Hebert clocked a 14.67 second 110-meter hurdle race, earning 44th place.
Miller continued her streak of NCAA Outdoor Championships appearances with the second fastest time of the day yet again in the quarterfinal round of the 400-meter hurdles. Running the event in 56.17 seconds and winning her heat, the senior advanced to her fourth straight national championship meet.
Thomas had a successful evening as well. Running first in the 100-meter dash first, the sophomore Heps champion clocked the eighth-fastest time of the day to place 10th overall at 11.44 seconds. The time was good enough to advance Thomas to the national championships for the second straight year. Only 90 minutes after running the 100-meter, Thomas clocked the fastest time of the day in the 200-meter dash, a 22.60, to advance to the quarterfinal round in that race, which will be held on Saturday. Despite the continual dominance on the track, Thomas still makes time to foster a relationship with her younger teammates.
“Gabby is an amazing teammate,” said freshman pentathlon Zoe Hughes of her teammate. “She’s taught me a lot about track and being able to cope with the balance of academics. A lot meets I’ve been to, it’s just been me and her in our group and I’ve really gotten to know her well through that.”
Freshman Will Battershill finished things up the evening with an 18th place finish in the 3000-meter steeplechase. The freshman completed the race in 9:00.25 seconds, just 13.78 seconds behind a qualifying time for nationals.
Day three was highlighted by two national qualifiers, Uwaifo and Thomas. Uwaifo led the group in the first event for the Harvard on the day. Competing in long jump, the senior grabbed ninth place with a leap of 15.68 meters to qualify. He participated in 2014.
Co-captain Julian Nunally took to the field next at discus. Tossing the disk a total of 52.38 meters, the senior finished his last meet in crimson in 34th at the regional meet. Okwelgou was also throwing again for the Crimson, this time in shot put. The senior, already having qualified for the national meet, achieved a 15.54 meter toss to place 25th. At triple jump, Fajemisin missed qualifying for the national meet by .03 meters. Jumping a season best, the freshman measured a 12.96 meter jump.
On the third day track events, Thomas shined. The sophomore clocked the fastest time of the day, winning her heat, in the 200-meter dash with a 22.56 second time. With the effort, Thomas took gold. Freshman Judy Pendergast and junior Elianna Shwayder both competed in the 5000-meter run, finishing within three seconds of each other. Pendergast took 33rd place with a 17:10.93 second run while Shwayder was three spots back and ran the race in 17:13.71.
“This season has had a great deal of ups and downs,” Shwayder said. “However, towards the end of the season, I started to figure out what mindset I needed to bring to the starting line in order to perform my best.”
In the 4x100-meter relay, the quartet of sophomore Ngozi Musa, Thomas, freshman Karina Joiner, and Miller placed 19th overall after completing the lap in 45.18 seconds.
The NCAA National Outdoor Championships will begin on Friday, June 7, in Eugene. Some who qualified will be looking to capitalize on last year’s success. Thomas, one of the returning runners, will be looking to surpass last year’s 3rd place finish in the 200-meter. Also returning is Okwelgou, who placed eighth in shot put and 10th in discus a year ago. Miller last year placed 11th in the 400-meter hurdles.
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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