Division II Indoor Championships Preview

NEW ORLEANS – The stage was set for the team battles at this weekend’s NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championship (March 14-15 in Winston-Salem, N.C.) earlier this week with the final USTFCCCA National Team Computer Rankings.

Now pull out those performance lists and/or heat sheets because it’s time to take a look at some of the individual storylines.

The Warm-Up Lap takes a quick run through each discipline for both men and women to highlight some of the main plot points of the individual competition. For more detailed information, including schedules, heat sheets, and links to the live online broadcasts, be sure to check out the USTFCCCA National Championships Central page.

Quick Links: Sprints & Hurdles | Distance | Jumps | Throws | Combined

Sprints & Hurdles

Defending and former men’s national champion are in heavy contention for each of the sprints and hurdles events.

Defending 60 meters champ Romel Lewis of Lincoln (Mo.) is once again the top seed at 6.66, but he will be challenged by a stiff field that includes defending 200 meters champion Jermaine Jones of Saint Augustine’s. All told, each of the top seven seeds are within .1 of Lewis.

Jones, who is also the top seed at 200 meters, is looking for three 200 titles in a row after sweeping indoors and outdoors a year ago. Jones and Lamar Hargrove of Tiffin displayed the best form of the regular season at 21.31 and 21.34, respectively.

Also ranked No. 4 at 200 meters is 2012 outdoor 200 meter champion Joshua Edmonds of Saint Augustine’s, who is the No. 2 man at 400 meters this year. He is one of three men to have qualified at sub 48, joining top seed Jordan Edwards of Academy of Art and William Shell of Southwest Baptist.

Defending 60-meters hurdles champion Moussa Dembele of Saint Augustine’s enters as the second seed to Dennis Bain of Claflin, though the two are only separated .03 at 7.80 and 7.83. GVSU’s Sean Wells and Saint Augustine’s Ty’reak Murray have also gone 7.90 or faster, giving Saint Augustine’s two in the top four. The duo finished first and third a year ago.

Of the top five teams, only No. 1 Adams State didn’t qualify a 4×400 relay to the meet. No. 3 Ashland has the top seed, No. 2 Saint Augustine’s is second, No. 4 GVSU is sixth and No. 5 Minnesota State is seventh.

By contrast, only one of the defending indoor women’s champions in the sprints and hurdles is back: Johnson C. Smith’s Danielle Williams, but she’s back with a vengeance.

Williams is the woman to beat both at 60 meters and 200 meters and in the 60-meter hurdles. She would be the third woman in the history of the meet to win three titles on the same weekend, and the first to complete that trio. The other two are Saint Augustine’s Kwonya Ferguson in 2007 (high jump, long jump, triple jump) and New Haven’s Shannon Gagne in 2011 (200, 400, long jump).

New Haven’s Ada Udaya will challenge her as a top-three seed both at 60 meters and 200 meters, and at 200 meters she will have to contend with each of the past two outdoor 400 meter champions in Adams State’s Kayon Robinson and Livingstone’s Quanera Hayes.

Robinson and Hayes are also the top two seeds at 400 meters, and both are looking for their first indoor quarter-mile title.

Williams’ nearest competitor in the 60-meter hurdles is teammate Samantha Elliot, who is one of just three women within a quarter of a second of Williams’ 8.14 seed time.

In what is likely to be a team title battle to the bitter end, each of the top four teams in the national rankings will be represented in the third and final heat of the 4×400 relay, head-to-head. No. 1 Lincoln (Mo.) at 3:44.57 is by nearly three seconds the top seed, followed by No. 4 Johnson C. Smith, No. 3 Adams State and No. 2 GVSU.

Distance

Defending men’s champions also dominate the distance events’ start lists, with all four 2013 champions competing again in 2014, though not necessarily in the event for which they currently hold the crown.

Reigning 800 meter champion Drew Windle of Ashland will look to build on a 2014 season that has seen him soar to No. 2 on the all-college performance list, regardless of Division. He is the top seed by more than two seconds over the field, which includes 2011 outdoor 800 meters champ Aduo Omot of Augustana (S.D.).

Defending mile champion Tabor Stevens of Adams State is stepping up to 3000 meters this year, leaving the eight-lap race open for a new champion to emerge. Robert Sandlin of Bellarmine is the top seed by more than a second at 4:04.29, joined by Dylan Lafond of Mount Olive and Matt Daniels of Adams State more than three seconds clear of the remainder of the field.

Looking to defend his 3000 meters title is Adams State’s Kevin Batt, who along with the aforementioned Stevens are heavy favorites by seed time. Batt will also look to claim the 5000 meters title from reigning champion Micah Chelimo of Alaska Anchorage.

Behind Batt and Stevens, the top-ranked Grizzlies are atop a tightly bunched field in the DMR 9:54.20, just fractions of a second ahead of Augustana (S.D.) and 1½ seconds clear of No. 3 Ashland with Windle.

Both 3000 meters champion Alicia Nelson of Adams State and 5000 champion Anna Rudd of Ferris State return to defend their crowns in 2014, but neither enters as the top seed in their respective event.

Nelson is the second qualifier behind Kristin Brondbo of Augustana (S.D.), while Rudd – entered in both races – is third with Adams State’s Lauren Martin and Joyce Kipchumba occupying the top two positions. Brondbo posted a qualifying time about three seconds faster than Nelson at 9:32.31.

Martin enters with by far the fastest seed time at  16:49.68, eight seconds clear of Kipchumba and 10 ahead of Rudd.

The middle-distance champions from a year ago have both exhausted their eligibility, opening the door for top-ranked Shawnee Carnett of Concord at 800 meters and Metro State’s Breanna Hemming in the mile to potentially take over as the best in Division II.

Distance medley relay points will be crucial with each of the top three nationally ranked teams entered into the race. Of the three, No. 2 GVSU is the highest-seeded at second in 11:48.23, followed by No. 3 Adams State seeded fifth 1½ seconds back and No. 1 Lincoln (Mo.) in 13th nearly 10 seconds back.

Hillsdale is the top seed by nearly a second.

Jumps

Western State’s Barbara Szabo is looking to make history in the high jump with her fourth consecutive national indoor title in the high jump – an event in which she leads all collegians, regardless of division, in 2014 at 6-3¼ (1.91m).

She would be the just the third woman in DII indoor history to win four individual titles in one event, and the first to do it in a field event. The others are Delloreen Ennis-London of Abilene Christian in the 55-meter hurdles (1996-1999) and Seattle Pacific’s Jessica Pixler in the mile (2007-10).

Two other women have cleared six feet in San Francisco State’s Tiana Wills and Szabo’s teammate Susan Jackson.

After losing her pole vault crown from 2012 a year ago, GVSU’s Kristen Hixson is the favorite to reclaim it in 2014 as the top seed by eight inches with a career-best clearance of 14-3¼ (4.35m). Only one other woman, DII indoor overall and meet record-holder Katelin Rains of Minnesota State in 2008, has cleared 14 feet to win a championship.

Both Hixson and Szabo are seeded above the current championship records in their respective events.

Also looking to defend her title from 2013 is triple jumper Kearah Danville of Angelo State, who is in a virtual tie atop the qualifying list with New Mexico Highlands’ Salcia Slack. Only a quarter of an inch separate Slack at 41-5¼ (12.63m) from Danville, who are the only two who have cleared 41 feet this season.

New Mexico Highlands frosh Shanice McPherson is the top seed in the long jump at 19-10¾ (6.06m), but nearly the entire field is seeded within a foot of her to set up a potentially very close competition.

On the men’s side, the Texas A&M-Kingsville duo of high jumper Jeron Robinson and pole vaulter Jordan Yamoah are back to reclaim their 2013 crowns.

Robinson is the favorite in the high jump, while Yamoah is No. 4. Top seed Jeff Piepenbrink of Pittsburg State and No. 2 Bret Myers of GVSU have both cleared 17 feet this year.

Three men have surpassed 25 feet in the long jump in Pittsburg State’s Keenan Soles, Indianapolis’ Joshuah Bass and Adams State’s Carlton Lavong, while DeJon Wilkinson of Saint Augustine’s and Lavong are the only two men to have jumped at least 52 feet in the triple jump.

Throws

Division II indoor shot put record holder Chris Reed of Minnesota State is the heavy favorite in his signature event, with only two other men within five feet of his 65-10¼ (20.07m) seed.

Findlay’s Justin Welch is similarly dominant in the weight throw as the top seed at 72-2¼ (22.00m), nearly two feet better than anyone else in the nation. Reed is ranked fourth in this event, as well.

On the women’s side, the weight throw is dominated by Ashland’s Jessica Bridenthal at 67-8¼ (20.63m), which is nearly two feet clear of second seed Kim Habegger of Ashland and nearly four feet better than third seed Tiffany Okieme of Georgian Court and the remainder of the field.

Okieme, however, has the advantage over third-ranked Bridenthal in the shot put. At 53-7¾ (16.35m), she is only a foot and a half ahead of No. 2 Kendra Averesch of Findlay.

Combined Events

Defending national pentathlon champion Erin Alewine of Central Missouri is the favorite to retain her title with 3901 points, followed closely by teammate Madison Smith. Six competitors posted scores this year within 200 points of Alewine’s nation-leading mark, but only two – Smith and New Mexico Highland’s Slack – are within 100 points.

Southern Connecticut’s Nick Lebron was the national champion in the heptathlon for 2012, but he lost his title last year after a third-place finish in the highest-scoring event in the meet’s history. He’s back for the title in 2014 as the top seed at 5504 by nearly 150 points over Nathan Hancock of Minnesota State.

The only other competitor seeded within 100 points is Payson Maydew of Emporia State, though last year’s runner-up Justin Balczak of Lake Superior State – who beat Lebron – is seeded fifth.