#TGW: A Qualified Success
The 2015 season continues for 11 GT men's and women's track athletes at NCAA East Prelims
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Twelve is the magic number for a special group of 11 Georgia Tech student-athletes.
Those special 11 are the track and field athletes that qualified for and will compete in the NCAA East Regional Preliminaries at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., on the campus of the University of North Florida. The meet begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.
The group includes five women -- Samantha Becker (pole vault), Melissa Fairey (10,000m), Kelly Meyer (10,000m), Katie Townsend (10,000m) and Bailey Weiland (high jump) -- and six men -- Spencer Allen (110 hurdles), Nathan Daniel (pole vault), Zack Fanelty (800m), Jeremy Greenwald (1,500m), Brandon Lasater (800m) and Myles McDavid (long jump).
Of those 11 athletes, eight are making their first trip to the NCAA Preliminaries -- only Townsend, Lasater and Greenwald have previously competed on that stage.
"I'm excited for the first time making it. I'm excited for the team," said Allen, a junior, who qualified at 38th, with a 14.14, at the ACC Outdoor Championships and will compete on Friday at 5:30 p.m. EST. "It is nice to be able to have a team here and go out and eat together, go to practice together and just kind of stay as one."
"This is my first year but it's a pretty nice showing," added Daniel, a junior, who will compete on Friday at 4:30 p.m. -- fellow pole vaulter Becker, a senior with the 9th best mark at the East Preliminaries (4.21m), will be the first Jacket to compete, starting on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. "Everyone here has put in a lot of effort, everyone here has struggled and done the best they can, but they're here because they deserve it. It's nice to be able to be here with all these people."
Daniel is relishing his spot.
"I kind of have to get used to the pressure of being expected to perform and believe that I'm on the top level with these other athletes," said Daniel, who comes in seeded 30th (5.12m). "Of course, everywhere we go people know Nikita [Kirillov], because he's really good. Now it's hard for me to put myself on the same level as all these people I've been hearing about. They say, `You can't pass people you look up to.' So I've kind of got to stop looking at all these people and think it's an unattainable level because I can be at their level."
No field will be better represented by the Jackets than the women's 10,000 meters, where Tech fields three runners, in Townsend (No. 33, 34:43.47), who also competed in 2013, as a sophomore, Fairey (37th, 34:48.56), and Meyer (44th, 34:58.38). Only Syracuse has more representatives in the event (four), while six other schools (Butler, Harvard, Michigan State, Ohio State, Toledo, and William and Mary) have two runners in the field. The 10,000 meters begins at 9 p.m., closing the first day of competition for the Yellow Jackets.
Meyer believes the opportunity to run with a pair of her teammates is advantageous to the entire group.
"It's going to be very big. Having each other there, that's something that's been really helpful throughout the season," said Meyer, who qualified at the Penn Relays, in mid-April, but then had to sweat it out as she saw her time pushed down to 44th. "This year we definitely have really got a good group of 10K girls. Not everybody has the opportunity to have so many people who want to run the 10K because not everybody would even want to try running that distance even if they could. So just being able to have three girls that want to run has really been good."
Having Townsend as a voice of experience also is a benefit.
"She's had some experience and shared some different stories with us about what she's gone through and how the races go at Regionals," Meyer said. "So that's been good to have one girl in our group who has run at Regionals before."
The Jackets also will have multiple runners in the men's 800-meter field, where Lasater, who is 13th at 1:47.38 -- he finished 24th in last year's Regionals (1:50.20) -- and Zach Fanelty (No. 48, with a 1:49.51) are in the field. They will compete Thursday at 8:35 p.m. The quarterfinals are Friday at 7:15 p.m.
Greenwald also will represent Georgia Tech's distance runners, competing in the 1,500m at 6 p.m. on Thursday. He's seeded 25th at 3:44.43.
The Prelims are just the latest chapter in what's new for freshman Weiland, who is seeded No. 42 at 1.75m, tied with 10 other athletes, but only 8/100ths of a meter away from the 12th-place height. She'll jump beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
"I haven't seen a lot of the really better girls in some of our meets so it's nice to finally compete against them," said the former two-time Georgia state champion in high school (she also ranked as high as No. 5 nationally), who qualified at the ACC Outdoor Championships. "Having that sort of competition not only lets me learn from them but it pushes me to do better in the meet and it helps my confidence knowing that I'm also in the meet with these girls who are jumping this height. So I must be able to eventually get to their level."
McDavid will represent GT in the men's long jump, taking off Thursday night at 7 p.m. The junior entered the competition 42nd with a qualifying jump of 7.39m set at the Georgia Tech Invitational.
The top 12 finishers in each event earn the opportunity to move on to the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championships being held at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., on the University of Oregon campus from June 10-15.
"I think we've got a good shot at moving on, a lot of us, if we run well," said Allen, who hopes to run in the 110m hurdles quarterfinals at 7:20 p.m. on Saturday, ideally following Greenwald, in the 1,500m quarterfinals, a 6:45 p.m. Saturday start. "So I'm looking forward to it."