MEET PREVIEW: NAIA Indoor Championships

NEW ORLEANS — Tomorrow marks the official start of the 2016 NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championships.

More than 300 athletes will converge on Johnson City, Tennessee with hopes of obtaining national glory — not only in their individual and relay events, but for their teams as well.

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Last year the Indiana Tech men and the Oklahoma Baptist women captured the team titles. It was the Warriors’ second consecutive crown, while the Lady Bison capped a run of five titles in the past six years.

We should see at least one new team champion this year as Oklahoma Baptist no longer competes in the NAIA. Indiana Tech’s men look strong once again, however, as they were the top-ranked team throughout the season in the USTFCCCA National Team Computer Rankings.

Whatever teams are crowned national champions will have earned it as healthy competition scatters the division.

Here are some of those events that could very well shape the trajectory of the team race.

Men’s Throws

Friday, 1 p.m. ET | Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

If fourth-ranked Concordia (Neb.) is going to make a statement, it will happen right after noon on Friday and Saturday. That’s when the finals of the weight throw and shot put will be contested.

The Bulldogs stacked both of these events with five of the top-10 weight throwers and three of the top-10 in the shot put.

Here are a few names from Concordia to look out for in both event: Cody Boellstorff, Zachary Lurz and Jose Rojas. Boellstorff is the top seed in the weight throw (20.99m/68-10.5) and 15th in the shot put (15.72m/51-7). Lurz is seeded first in the shot put (18.14m/59-6.25) and second in the weight throw (19.32m/63-4.75). Rojas owns the fifth seed in each.

Don’t count out Olivet Nazarene’s Jacob Ambrust or St. Francis’ Kyle Mitchell in the shot put or Evergreen State’s Zebullah Hoffman or Doane (Neb.)’s Levi Hillman in the weight throw, either.

Men’s 600

Saturday | 2:35 p.m. ET

Expect this one to go down to the wire as Indiana Tech’s John Hester (1st, 1:18.58) and Wayland Baptist’s Kelson Pierre (2nd, 1:18.69) are seeded less than two-tenths of a second from each other.

Pierre will also try to ruin a potential 1-2-3 sweep by the Warriors in this event. Joining Hester from Indiana Tech’s ranks are Devon Marrow (3rd, 1:19.44) and Gairy Springer (4th, 1:19.53). If Pierre’s teammate Adam Berhe (8th, 1:20.79) can find a way to work his way up the field, the Jackrabbits just might have something cooking.

Men’s 200

Saturday | 4:15 p.m. ET

Indiana Tech’s John Broaden (1st, 21.23) and Harris Edwards III (2nd, 21.26) have pushed each other all season.

Now it’s time for them to match up with the best of the rest in NAIA.

Wayland Baptist’s Kabroderan Handsborough (3rd, 21.57), Cardinal Stritch (Wis.)’s Phoenix Miller (4th, 21.63) and Southern-New Orleans’ Jahnoy Thompson (5th, 21.82) are all right there.

Handsborough’s teammate Jusitn Scruggs (6th, 21.85) and Mobile (Ala.)’s James Faison (7th, 21.87) are the last two entrants seeded under 22 seconds.

Men’s 4×400

Saturday | 6:15 p.m. ET

If the team race isn’t decided by the time this one starts, look out.

Three of the top-5 ranked teams in the nation have seed times of less than four seconds apart. Top-ranked Indiana Tech leads the way, followed by No. 2 Wayland Baptist and then No. 5 Siena Heights (Mich.).

Women’s High Jump

Saturday | 2:30 p.m. ET

A sweep of the top-3 spots in this event would give second-ranked Siena Heights (Mich.) 24 points and a big leg up in the team competition.

Who are those athletes ready to compete on the national level for the Huskies?

Phoenix Duncan is the top seed at 1.75m (5-8.75) with Amber Koprin and Marissa Johnson both tied at 1.73m (5-8).

Settling right behind the trio from Siena Heights are Indiana Wesleyan’s Allison Trevithick, Westmont’s Becky Collier, Doane (Neb.)’s Paige Hervert — who is also the top-ranked pentathlete. They’re all seeded at 1.72m (5-7.75).

Women’s 200

Saturday | 4:15 p.m. ET

The six fastest athletes in this event are all seeded below 25 seconds.

Wayland Baptist has three of the top-4 seeds with Alexis Browner (1st, 24.34), Rochene Smith (2nd, 24.38) and Gregria Higgs (4th, 24.88) in the mix. Indiana Tech’s Sarah Dunmore (3rd, 24.72) injected herself into that party.

Southern-New Orleans’ Leonie Robinson (5th, 24.92) and Indiana Tech’s Brianna Woods (6th, 24.93) are the last two sprinters to have eclipsed the 25-second barrier.

Women’s 4×400

Saturday | 5:55 p.m. ET

So Wayland Baptist is seeded highest here at 3:50.64.

Nestled two seconds behind the Jackrabbits are a trio of teams led by Doane (Neb.) at 3:52.51. Right behind that team is Southern-New Orleans at 3:52.62 and Indiana Tech holds a seed time of 3:52.88.

Why is this so important?

Well, Indiana Tech and Doane are ranked 1-2 in the USTFCCCA National Team Computer Rankings. Ten points here or eight points there could go along way in deciding the champion at the end of the day.