Largest Aggie Track Group Ready for NCAA Prelims

Basil Okoroike will be in action on both the track and in the field at the NCAA West Prelim Meet.

May 28, 2014

NCAA West Prelim Homepage (schedule, start lists, results) | Live Video (running events only)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Fourteen women and seven men will represent UC Davis at the NCAA Division I West Region Track and Field Prelim Meet at the University of Arkansas which begins on Thursday afternoon, the largest Aggie contingent at the national championship's first stop.

UC Davis traveled 16 qualifiers in 2010 for its previous highest total and has sent at least 14 over the past six seasons. The meet, which serves as the opening rounds of the NCAA Championships and will continue at the University of Oregon next month with the NCAA Finals, begins on Thursday and runs through Saturday. The NCAA East Regional is being held in Jacksonsville, Fla.

In all, the top 48 individuals in each individual event and the top 24 relays qualified for the regional prelims. Some athletes that qualified in more than one event elected to scratch out of some events, opening slots for others further down on the descending order list, while some schools had more than one relay among the top 24 which brought opportunities to other schools ranked lower. Each school is permitted just one relay per event.

The Aggies' contingent represents 26 total entries for the teams. Sprinters Ashley Marshall and Leslie Reed each qualified in the 100- and 200-meter dashes while Marcus Johnson matched those events on the men's side. Additionally, all three will be on UC Davis' 4x100 relays that will compete on Saturday. Hurdler Karl Moran was a double-qualifier for the men as well.

UC Davis qualified three women for the NCAA Finals at Oregon last year, including Marshall who advanced in the 100, and former standout Lauren Wallace who went on to earn All-America first-team honors in the 800. As the Aggies' program has grown in recent seasons, so have the goals, according to head coach Drew Wartenburg.

"In recent years we have made efforts to change the athletes' perspective in order to emphasize the NCAA preliminary and final rounds as the places where we aim to perform at our best and close out the season," he said. "We have been fortunate to continue building upon our growing tradition of national-caliber performers, and the staff is pleased to have our largest group traveling to Fayetteville for a broad spectrum of individual events and two relays."

The Aggie men have three sprinters at the regional for the first time as Kaio Sena, Sava Boyadjiev and Big West champion Marcus Johnson all compete in the 100 on Thursday afternoon. Johnson will add the 200 on Friday while those three athletes along with Basil Okoroike - who will take part in the triple jump on Saturday - will form the 4x100 relay which races Saturday. The second round of the 100 is on Friday while the 200 will holds its quarterfinal round on Saturday.

Marshall and Leslie Reed will race the 100-200 double for the women on Thursday and Friday as they look to advance to Oregon. Marshall, who won both events at the Big West Championships for the second straight year and was named last week as the conference's women's track athlete of the year for the second time, is ranked 11th nationally in the shorter sprint.

Cekarri Nixon, school-record holder in the 400 who will race in that event on Thursday, will join freshman Holly Miller, Marshall and Reed for the 4x100 relay on Saturday. UC Davis set the school record in that event (45.02) earlier this May.

Besides the 100 and 400 on Thursday, the Aggie men will have Nathan Strum in the 800, Moran in the 400 hurdles and Brandon Greenberg in the shot put in action on the meet's first day. Moran will return to the track on Friday in the 110 high hurdles and also the quarterfinals of the long hurdles should he advance out of Thursday's opening round.

Big West champion Shanie Landen will race Thursday in the 800 while conference titlist Raquel Lambdin takes to the track for the 1,500. Big West champions Kellie Grigg (400 hurdles) and Christine Hoffmann (10,000) will also face opening-day tests. Grigg will look to move to Friday's quarterfinals while Hoffman will try to qualify directly for the NCAA Finals with a top-12 finish on Thursday night.

Alycia Cridebring, coming off her conference title in the 5,000, will race on Saturday, hoping for a top-12 showing and her first trip trip to Eugene as well.

Holly Tokar, the Big West Freshman of the Year after capturing the pole vault at the Big West meet, will be in action on Thursday, as will shot-putters Praise Adesida and Veronica Smart. Catherine Li, whose school record in the triple jump while winning the Big West title nearly two weeks ago punched her ticket to the regional meet, will complete on Friday afternoon.

With just one round of competition, the field events will send athletes directly to the NCAA Finals.

"Like any post-season meet, we will focus on one round at a time rather than looking too far down the road or taking anything for granted," Wartenburg said. "Recovery and training following a hard-fought conference championship meet has gone well, and the coaches feel good about our preparation on the collective and individual levels for the upcoming days in Arkansas. Part of a successful multi-day meet is managing all the factors outside the track and field venues, and if we execute as we have rehearsed in recent weeks we will have athletes with excellent chances for successful results."

The Aggie men are coming off a third-place finish as the Big West Championships at Woody Wilson Track while the women captured their third consecutive title.

"Although there always seems to be debate about how to best qualify for postseason competition, the essence of the current system leaves the onus of advancing on the athlete and his or her ability to perform in a given event," said Wartenburg. "The athletes representing UC Davis this week demonstrate the balanced approach for which we strive in our program, and we have both seasoned regional performers and a group for whom this will be the first look at this level of competition."

The NCAA Finals are scheduled for June 11-14.