May 25, 2006
The NCAA Regional Championships, the first round of the Track & Field Championships begin this Friday afternoon with most prelims, continuing into Saturday with finals in most events. One of four nation-wide regions, the West Regional Championship will take place at BYU in Provo, UT. For the Gaucho Women, five will make the trip across the Western United States looking to qualify for the NCAA National Championships beginning in two weeks at CSU Sacramento.
In order to qualify to Nationals, the athletes must do one of two things. First, and the easiest route to Sacramento, one may finish in the top five in their event within their respective region. Doing so will earn them an automatic qualifying spot to NCAA's. Secondly, if one finishes in the next seven spots or 6th-12th place they will be put in an at-large pool with all of the Regions' 6th-12th place finishers. From the at-large pool, the top six to nine in each event based on their 2006 season best marks will then be selected to the Championships. Depending on a particular strength of an event, they will choose anywhere from six to nine of them until the total NCAA allowable field size is filled, giving each event anywhere from twenty-six to twenty-nine athletes.
For the Gauchos, we begin with the Kylie McCuen (Sr.) in the 200m dash. McCuen makes her second trip to the Regional Championships after last year's dominating Conference performances winning the 200m and 400m dashes at the Big West Championships, earning the honor of being named the 2005 Track Athlete of the Year. At the '05 West Regionals she competed in both the 200m and 400m qualifying for finals in the deuce, finishing in 7th place. Her 2006 best mark did not move her onto the NCAA Championships; however that only made her hungrier.
In 2006, she set personal bests in both the 200m and 400m, lowering her 200m school record to 23.81, getting well below the Regional qualifying mark of 23.96. She also defended her Big West Championship double winning both of the sprints again in tougher fields then she encountered in '05. Opting to get after only the 200m this year at the Regional Championships, she goes into the dash ranked 8th with a 23.79 (wind +3.1 m/s) in the West out of ten scheduled competitors.
She will step into the blocks in heat one, lane four, just to the inside of Antonette Carter of California with a '06 best of 23.20 and the West's leading performer in Carol Rodriguez of USC with a 22.81. McCuen, ranked 51st nationally of those declared in the 200m, she will either need to finish in the top five in finals on Saturday or improve her mark by about .40 seconds to qualify as an at-large to the NCAA Championships.
After qualifying four into last year's 5,000m final, the Gauchos kept it rolling in `06 as they will start three in Friday night's final, having the most declared athletes from one school in the 5k field. Leading the charge will be Megan Lewis (Jr.), Big West leader in the event with a 16:28.28. In 2005, she finished 6th at West Regionals in the 5,000m final but did not have a time fast enough to qualify from the at-large pool. Learning this she dropped her time by approximately twenty seconds this year and goes in ranked 5th out of seventeen in the West and 25th nationally. She will look first to qualify automatically, but finishing in the top twelve may still earn her a berth in the National Championships.
One factor may be up against her qualifying at-large which has plagued the West Region the last two years. First, a slow race will keep the field from improving upon their times in order to climb the at-large pool rankings. Also, the altitude will also play a role with Provo, UT at 4,627 feet. The NCAA will convert their marks to make up for the altitude by subtracting 24.55 seconds to their final time, however with altitude affecting each individual differently, it is tough to predict how the race will be run. In the East Region, forty have qualified into the 5,000m final which runs notoriously fast. Another quick year may put some from the East ahead of Lewis in the at-large pool bumping her down. A positive for Lewis are the five women still declared in both the 5k and 10k ahead of her, if those women choose the 10k that may improve her chances of going at large.
Seanna Martin (Sr.) lowered her 5k best by over thirty seconds to 16:40.08, earning her first trip to the West Regional Championships, as she ran well under the qualifying mark of 16:52. The Big West runner up at 10,000m and 4th place finisher at 5,000m of a Gaucho 1st-4th sweep in that event, goes in ranked 9th. Again, she can remove all doubt in a Nationals berth by finishing in the top five, but to move on through the at-large pool she may have to improve her time by another ten seconds as the current 27th ranked athlete nationally is at 16:29.52.
Stephanie Rothstein (Jr.) is in a similar situation as Martin with a '06 best of 16:44.88, ranked 11th in the West and 64th nationally. The Big West 2006 Track Athlete of the Year as well as the 10,000m and 5,000m champion Conference Champion will look to improve her mark even though she has the option of racing the 10,000m at the NCAA National Championships with her automatic qualifying mark of 33:27.85, the Big West Conference and UCSB records. At 10k, she is currently ranked 12th in NCAA competition and the 14th American at the distance in '06.
In the 3,000m Steeplechase, making her 2nd Regional appearance, School Record holder Bethany Nickless (So.) will toe the line in Saturday's final in the faster or two heats. Nickless is coming off of a Big West Steeplechase title and a 5,000m All-Conference finish two weekends ago, entering this weekends Regionals ranked 9th in the West. Currently the fifth ranked competitor has a best of 10:22.66. For at-large qualifying, Nickless is ranked 43rd nationally and will look at improving her time to approximately 10:27, the current 27th ranked time in the country. With the altitude the NCAA will subtract 14.65 seconds to their final time, however look for a slew of altitude school competitors in the steeplechase to also have a slight edge as they too look to improve upon their times.
The NCAA West Regional Championships begin on Friday at 11am with the field events and 2pm with the track events. They will continue with most of the finals on Saturday starting at 10am in the field and 1:30pm on the track.