MEET PREVIEW: 2018 NCAA DII Indoor Track & Field Championships

NOTE: This is an individual-centric preview. Check out the most recent National Team Rankings for the team preview.

When the dust settles at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in Pittsburg, Kansas, this weekend, there could be some new team champions.

Individually, however, there will be a nice mix of fresh faces and familiar names that will take home titles for their programs.

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Ten athletes who won a total of 12 titles a year ago are returning to defend their crowns this year at the Robert W. Plaster Center. While each of them should face stiff competition, the experience gained from competing on the highest level a year ago may be enough to push them over the edge once again.

At the same time, there are a slew of athletes who are chomping at the bit to enter their names into history as NCAA Division II champions.

Mobolade Ajomale of Academy of Art has the potential to do something that only one other NCAA Division II athlete has ever done before: win both the 60 and 200 in back-to-back seasons. Posting the top times in both events this year at 6.63 and 20.67, respectively, the product out of Canada could make history. His 200 meter time is an NCAA Division II record.

Joining Ajomale in hoping to pull off back-to-back victories in two events is Alicja Konieczek of Western State. The senior is the top-ranked performer in the 3000 this year at 9:22.52 after winning the title a year ago. However, she will face stiff competition from her sister, Aneta, who ran just five seconds behind her on the NCAA Division II Descending Order List. Alicja Konieczek also ranks fourth in the mile this year, so will have a tough go of it in that race with a deep field.

One of the most intriguing talents in the meet this weekend is Ashland’s Myles Pringle. The defending champion in the 400, the junior currently owns the top time in NCAA Division II this year. However, Pringle is one of just five athletes scheduled to perform in three individual events this weekend (the others being Charles Greaves of Texas A&M-Kingsville, Cameron Burrows of Tiffin, Magaly Tshipopo of Saint Augustine’s and Kami Norton of Angelo State).

Not to discredit those four, but Pringle is the only one in that group to sit atop the Descending Order List in two events (400 and high jump). He is also slated to compete in the Eagles’ 4×400, meaning he could score a ton of points for Ashland this weekend.

On the men’s side, Sydney Gidabuday hopes to defend his title in the 3000, but if he doesn’t, he will have a shot at winning the 5000, where he is currently ranked first heading into the meet. A solid field in the 3000 that includes David Ribich of Western Oregon, Evan Verbal of Colorado Christian, James Ngandu of Tiffin and Chandler Reid of Adams State could make it difficult for Gidabuday to pick up his third-straight title in the event.

Other men who are looking to win back-to-back titles this year are Saint Augustine’s Shaquille Dill (800), Southern Indiana’s Bastian Grau (mile), and Minnesota State’s Michael Sandle (triple jump). All three sit in the top-10 of the Descending Order List in their respective events.

On the women’s side, Adams State’s Dianna Johnson (60), U-Mary’s Alexis Zeis (5000) and West Texas A&M’s Rellie Kaputin (triple jump) all hope to make it two-in-a-row in their respective events.

Zeis has a shot to repeat, as well as pick up some points in the 3000, where she sits fifth heading into the meet. Kaputin is one of two athletes who sit in the top-three in both the long jump and triple jump. However, her teammate Fatim Affessi is the other one, and she ranks first in both events heading into the meet. The duo should combine for major points for the Lady Buffs.

Adams State’s Jenna Thurman will be busy again this weekend, as she heads into the competition ranked first in the mile and seventh in the 3000, where she was the runner-up a year ago. The senior should also factor in heavily in the Grizzlies’ distance medley relay squad.

Other athletes to keep an eye on are UC-Colorado Springs’s Skylyn Webb in the women’s 800, Ursuline’s Janelle Perry in the women’s 60 hurdles, Missouri Southern’s Emily Presley in the women’s pole vault, Michaela Dendinger of Wayne State (Neb.) in the women’s shot put, Southern Connecticut State’s Destiney Coward, Kami Norton of Angelo State in the women’s pentathlon, Thomas Staines of CSU-Pueblo in the men’s 800, Alex Hill of Ashland in the men’s weight throw, Florian Obst in the men’s heptathlon and Verbal in the men’s mile. All of the aforementioned athletes lead the NCAA Division II Descending Order List this year in addition to entering their names into the NCAA Division II indoor record book for their performances on the season.