May 19, 2011
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Twelve University of Wyoming track student-athletes have qualified for the 2011 NCAA West Preliminary Round, which will be May 26-28 in Eugene, Ore.
The NCAA Championships began last season with a new qualifying structure which takes the top 48 athletes in each event to the preliminary meet. From there, the top 12 qualifiers from each event will receive an invitation to the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 8-11.
The 12 athletes selected are the most in Don Yentes' tenure as Wyoming head coach, a span of 11 seasons. The group is one of the most talented in terms of how it stacks up in Wyoming history. Nine of the athletes who qualified rank in the top four in UW's all-time record book in their respective events.
Notable selections for the Cowgirls include senior Afiya Walker, who will run in her third straight outdoor NCAA regional event. She currently is ranked 16th in the region in the 400-meter dash (53.10 seconds). She also will run in the 4-by-400-meter relay team with Erin Kirby, Lindsey Simmons and Candace Wollert, which is seeded 19th.
Three Cowgirl freshmen will make the trip, qualifying in their first year of competition. That group includes Christine Nelson (32nd in the 5,000-meter run), Wollert (34th in the 800) and Kirby (23rd in the 400 hurdles). Diana Long (34th in the 400 hurdles) and Ashley Hutchinson (43rd in the hammer throw) will round out the field for the Cowgirls.
Mario Harris, a sophomore, qualified in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, but a hamstring injury could force him to withdraw from the event. Coaches will wait to make the decision on Harris' availability until later. The injury also may have cost the Pokes a chance to qualify their 4-by-100-meter relay team.
The lone returner for the Cowboys is sophomore Lenyn Leonce, who will make his second-straight trip to regionals. He currently is ranked 34th in the long jump. Tyler Skinner also will represent the jumps crew. He is ranked 22nd in the high jump.
"We're pretty excited, because we only have one senior out of the group going to nationals," Yentes said. "We just missed out with Mario's injury, but we have a lot of good opportunities. These kids didn't just barely squeak in. They're solid."
Senior Taylor Kelting was the 49th-ranked athlete in the region in the 5,000-meter run, less than a second away from qualifying. If there is a scratch in the field, he could end up with a spot in the event. For now, the Cowboy distance squad for UW will be represented by two runners, including junior Greg Miller, who qualified in the 10,000-meter run. Garrett Zans, ranked 27th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, also will run in Eugene.
Wyoming distance coach Randy Cole lauded the efforts of his group.
"They've all had really great attitudes, consistent work habits and I think they're thinking we can take our shots and beat the people we are very capable of beating and take a shot at the people who are ranked ahead of us," Cole said. "We are hoping to set some personal records and look for advancement to Des Moines."
While the selection of the student-athletes wasn't a surprise to Yentes, it still validated the hard work his teams have put in throughout the season.
"It's exciting to get them in officially," Yentes said. "We're pumped up about getting them in. Now we'll see what we can do. We have busy days every day. When you go to nationals, it's good to be busy. It'll be fun."
Here is a breakdown of the Wyoming student-athletes and their rankings within the West Region:
Afiya Walker , 16th in the 400
Candace Wollert , 34th in the 800
Christine Nelson , 32nd in the 5,000
Erin Kirby , 23rd in the 400 hurdles
Diana Long , 34th in the 400 hurdles
4-by-400-meter relay, 19th (includes Kirby, Lindsey Simmons, Wollert and Walker)
Ashley Hutchinson , 43rd in the hammer
Mario Harris , 32nd in the 100; 23rd in the 200
Garrett Zans , 27th in the 3,000 steeple
Greg Miller , 26th in the 10,000
Tyler Skinner , 22nd in the high jump
Lenyn Leonce , 34th in the long jump