Surprising Kansas leads stellar field at national title meet
All the big names are there — Texas A&M, Florida, LSU and Oregon. And right at the top is Kansas.
The Jayhawks don’t have Texas A&M’s recent three-peat, Oregon’s historic aura or LSU’s record 14 NCAA outdoor track and field championships. In fact, Kansas doesn’t have any NCAA women’s team championships, indoor or outdoor. But entering the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which run Wednesday through Saturday in Eugene, Ore., the Jayhawks hold the top spot in the USTFCCCA Division I National Team Computer Rankings.
“I think they’ve done a really good job this year of handling being ranked No. 1,” Kansas coach Stanley Redwine said of his team, which has held the top spot in eight of the 10 rankings this outdoor season. “I think what it means at this point is yes, they will have a target on their back, but I don’t think having the target puts any more pressure on them then they put on themselves.”
And Redwine says that perhaps no Kansas athlete expects to win more than Andrea Geubelle. Geubelle, a senior, won the long jump and triple jump at the NCAA indoor championships in March and enters this week’s meet with the top seed in long jump and the second seed in triple jump.
“She’s very competitive, and she is going in with the mindset to compete at her best, and her best is to win,” Redwine said. “That’s her goal. She’s never been one to shy away from wanting to do her best. I think that’s the type of expectation that this team has.”
Kansas brings two other indoor champions to Eugene in junior Natalia Bartnovskaya (pole vault) and junior Diamond Dixon (400 meters). In all, Kansas has 13 entries in the meet, which is the fourth most.
Of course, track meets aren’t run on paper, and Kansas will have plenty of competition from the other big name programs.
The crowd favorite will no doubt be Oregon, which enjoys a strong home track advantage at Hayward Field. The fifth-ranked Ducks, who claimed their fourth consecutive NCAA indoor team title in March, have 15 entries. Leading the way is junior English Gardner, the defending 100-meter champion who qualified both in that event and the 200 meters.
Still, Redwine says there are several teams capable of claiming the title on the right day.
“Oregon is very good, they have a quality team at home, but I think it’s definitely an underestimate if you forget about the A&Ms and others schools that are out there,” Redwine said. “It’s going to be a close flight.”
Texas A&M comes into the NCAA championships ranked second and with a meet-leading 16 entries. Keeping up with the school’s tradition, the Aggies have eight entries in the sprints/hurdles, plus high seeds in both relays. After winning four consecutive NCAA titles in the 4x100 relay from 2007 to 2010, the Aggies should be favorites to claim the event title again after running an NCAA-best 42.56 earlier this year.
Third-ranked Florida and fourth-ranked LSU also figure to be formidable contenders. Seven of the Gators’ 15 entries are in sprint and hurdle events. The key for this squad, coach Mike Holloway said, is for the athletes to believe in themselves.
“The biggest key with us there is we’ve got to really trust and believe that we belong here and that we can do great things,” Holloway said, whose women’s teams have come close but never won an indoor or outdoor national title since he took over in 2008. “I think they are all very talented, but they haven’t quite bought into the fact that they are one of the best teams in the NCAA, and I hope they show that this weekend.”
Leading LSU’s 12 entries is senior sprinter Kimberlyn Duncan. The 2012 Bowerman Award winner, given to the best male and female track athlete in the NCAA, has been dominant at the 200 meters, sweeping the indoor/outdoor titles in 2011 and 2012 and taking the 2013 indoor title. In Eugene she will also be among the favorites in a 100-meter field that is as stacked as any event.
In addition to Duncan and Gardner, the field also includes Texas A&M junior Ashley Collier and Central Florida sophomore Octavious Freeman. All four athletes have personal bests that put them among the top 10 collegiate performers in NCAA history.
Another marquee event will be the women’s high jump, where Arizona senior and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett has won the NCAA indoor/outdoor double for the past two years. After winning the indoor title again this spring, she could make it six in a row in Eugene.
Fellow U.S. Olympian Tia Brooks, a senior at Oklahoma, is the prohibitive favorite in shot put after sweeping the indoor/outdoor titles in 2012 and also claiming the 2013 indoor title. Her best throw this season is more than two feet farther than anyone else.
Three other former NCAA outdoor champions qualified for this week’s meet. They are Illinois sophomore Ashley Spencer (400) and Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino (5,000), who won those events in 2012, and Colorado senior Emma Coburn, a 2012 Olympian who won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2011.