By Jon Cooper | The Good Word -
THE FLATS – The student-athletes on Georgia Tech’s men’s and women’s track and field teams poured out gallons of sweat in hours of workouts and meets during the 2018 Outdoors season and the ACC Championships.
Yet, some of them may have done as much sweating last week, sitting at home refreshing their computer screens while waiting to see if they qualified for the NCAA East Preliminaries as they did in any of those workouts.
“It was definitely a nerve-wracking week but so much relief seeing that I got in,” said senior hurdler Marinice Bauman, whose 59.72 qualified her for the 400 hurdles, the first women’s event of the prelims, which is slated to go off at 1 p.m. on Thursday, immediately following the men’s 400 hurdles. “It was a little bit touch-and-go there with the qualifying process. I’m glad that I have a lane and I have an opportunity to do something great. I’m ready go out there and do the best that I can and have a great last Region.”
The same sentiment holds true for 15 of Bauman’s Yellow Jacket teammates, who will look to make the most of their chance to compete in this weekend’s NCAA East Prelims, which begin Thursday at the USF Track & Field Stadium on the campus of the University of South Florida, in Tampa.
Bauman, who’ll be in her second NCAA Prelims, was thrilled for her teammates, including junior, All-ACC first-teamer, Jeanine Williams and fellow seniors Kenya Collins and Raven Stewart, her teammates in the record-setting 4x100 shuttle relay. The trio all qualified for the 100m high hurdles. Williams and Stewart will be two lanes apart in the fifth heat (Stewart, lane 3, Williams, lane 5), while Collins runs in lane one in the preceding heat. The 100 Highs is the second event on Friday, starting at 1 p.m., following the men’s 110 highs.
“Getting three short hurdlers to Region is such an accomplishment,” Bauman said. “They should be SO proud of themselves. I’m so excited for them. We have a lot of great energy so having them around is going to be great to motivate me and keep me in the zone and just give me a sense that we’re all in this together.”
Williams, the ACC’s fastest woman hurdler this year in both Indoors and Outdoors -- the seventh woman ever to do so -- is a favorite to advance to the National Championships being held June 6-9, at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Her biggest issue was how high up her best time, 12.83, would be. It turned out to be fifth-best in the Region. While Williams didn’t share some of her teammates’ anxiety about getting in she very much shares their level of excitement and motivation to run well.
“I’m definitely determined because of last year,” she said, referring to last year’s NCAAs, when she was unable to finish her heat. “I’m excited. I’m going to go and have fun and do what I can to get to Nationals as I did last year.”
The women’s 100 high hurdles isn’t the only event where Georgia Tech will get to team up to motivate.
In the men’s 400, sophomore Benjamin Jean and senior Daniel Pietsch, both second-team all-ACC, will represent. The teammates, who always seem to end up neck and neck -- Jean’s qualifying time was 46.55, Pietsch’s 46.59 -- will be in separate heats, as Jean runs in Heat 4 from lane 6, Pietsch in Heat 5 in lane 8. The first round of the 400 is set for 3:20 p.m. Thursday.
They WILL get to run together (along with freshman Ty Brooks and junior Avery Bartlett) in the 4x400 relay, however, which goes off Saturday morning at 9:25. The Jackets, which qualified with a 3:09.08, will have lane 6 in the first heat. The top three teams in each heat and the next three fastest times advance. The 4x400 is the penultimate event of the weekend, going off at 3:55 p.m.
“I’m real excited for how we’re going to perform at Regionals,” said Jean. “We knew we had a really good 4x400 team this year. We were able to get fourth in the ACC. It was a little disappointing that we were just knocked out of the top three, but we have another chance to go for a better time. I’m confident we can shave off a lot more time.”
“Regionals will be exciting,” said Pietsch. “It’ll be my first time to Regionals. We’ll see what happens. I’m hoping for a little bit better of a performance than at ACCs. With the 4x4, it could be a really good end of the season. It would be pretty amazing.”
Tech also will have multiple reps in the 800, where Bartlett, the ACC Champion and an all-ACC first-teamer, (1:47.76), and senior Andres Littig (1:49.30) will go. They’ll be separated by five heats but try to share good lane karma, as Littig goes from lane 4 in Heat 1, while Bartlett starts there in Heat 6. That event begins at 4:10 p.m. on Thursday.
“(Qualifying is) only half the battle,” said Bartlett, who chose to focus more on the 800 than the 1,500. “Of course, it is great knowing you’ll get to compete. The quarterfinals, around there, is a big stage. It feels good but I’m not by any means satisfied.”
Despite being named Second-Team All-ACC, Littig expressed a degree of dissatisfaction in the way his race there finished but he remained confident he’d qualify for Regionals. Going back to race in the Tampa heat doesn’t bother him. The only heat he’s concerned about is Heat 4. He actually sees returning to those conditions as something that could work in his favor.
“It’s always good to be in a situation that you feel like you’ve been in before,” he said. “At this point, at the end of five years there’s not much that I haven’t seen out there. I think when it comes to weather, it’s important to remember that everyone else in the heat is subject to the same conditions. So however the weather is, however you’re feeling on a given day, you just have to push that aside and try to run your best.”
Solomon will run the second heat of the 5,000 (8:05 p.m. Saturday) and first heat of the 10,000 (9 p.m. Thursday) -- he qualified with times of 13:51.92 and 29:07.98. Gollnick runs the second heat of the 3,000 Steeplechase, Friday night, at 8:40 p.m., Ruiz is entered in the first heat of the 1,500 (2 p.m. Thursday), having qualified with a 4:24.00, while Fegans looks to wrap up a sensational freshman year in the first heat of the 5,000 (Saturday at 8:45 p.m.) -- she qualified with a 16:26.12.
Gollnick, who ran a personal best 10:24.99 at ACCs in earning her first all-ACC selection, is relieved to be off the bubble and glad to get a chance to run another day.
“I had a really bad race at Penn so it was really nice to have a really good one to qualify for Regionals,” she said.
The Jackets will have three experienced representatives in field events, as Pole Vaulter Ksenia Novikova (4.14M), long jumper William Solomon (7.50M) and All-ACC triple jumper Preston Smith (15.67M, a P.R., set at ACCs), all seniors, will compete. Women’s pole vault begins 9:30 a.m. on Friday, men’s long jump starts 3:30 Thursday and triple jump goes off 3:30 Saturday).
Smith feels he knows what it takes to get to Oregon and is excited to show it in his final Preliminaries.
“I know at Regionals it takes a high 51 to make it to Nationals so I went into ACCs with the mindset of jumping that to see what it feels like and was able to jump 51-5,” he said. “Now, go out there and try to replicate it at Regionals and then hopefully have a shot to go to Nationals.”
That’s the mindset for all the Yellow Jackets. They will look to proverbially make some noise on the track then literally make a ton of it in the crowd rooting for their teammates.
“That’s super-important, to be present and support each other,” said Bauman. “Just the presence alone means the most and then getting the opportunity to celebrate each other for the accomplishments that we’ve had just getting this far. So we’re going to bring the heat. We’re going to be real loud. It’s going to be great.”