LAWRENCE, Kan. — The meet might have been abbreviated, but the New Mexico Lobos’ success was certainly nothing short of tremendous.
Six University of New Mexico track & field athletes qualified to the finals of the NCAA Championships Saturday as the Lobos finished with 10 total qualifiers at the 2016 NCAA West Preliminary Round this weekend.
During the final day of action at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence, Sophie Connor, Emily Hosker-Thornhill, Calli Thackery, Aasha Marler, Jannell Hadnot and Josh Kerr all punched their tickets to Eugene, Oregon, the site of the finals of the national championships in two weeks.
That group will join Courtney Frerichs, Alice Wright, Allan Hamilton and Elmar Engholm, all of whom qualified on the second day of the weather-shortened meet.
“It was a great day,” New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. “The men and women competed very, very well. The weather in Kansas didn’t cause a problem. Obviously, it wasn’t an overly fun weekend dealing with the weather, but the students really lit it up with their performances.”
After practically all of Thursday‘s events were suspended due to inclement weather, the Lobos had to contend with a shortened schedule that did away with qualifying rounds of laned track events and made the margin for error to advance that much smaller.
The top 12 finishers in each event — out of 48 prelim-round qualifiers in the individual events — advance to the NCAA finals, and the weather cut out an entire round of elimination in the qualifying process.
But the Lobos handled the changes with aplomb, advancing nearly half of the entrants (10 of 21) that qualified to Lawrence for the prelims.
In fact, the 10 UNM athletes that advanced to the NCAA finals are the most under the current regionals system, which started in 2010.
It’s also just one qualifier short of the all-time high of 11 set 2009, and extends a 10-year run of at least four athletes advancing to the national championships.
“The 11 was under a different qualifying system, a four-region system, so the qualifying was very different back then,” Franklin said. “Now it’s the East and the West, so to get seven women and three guys is remarkable.”
The duo of Hosker-Thornhill and Connor got the Lobos off to a hot start on Saturday.
Hosker-Thornhill, a senior out of Canterbury, England, raced in the first of four sections of the 1500-meter run, zooming to a personal-record time of 4 minutes, 18.55 seconds.
However, her time didn’t nab one of the two automatic bids in her section, so she had to wait for all four heats to finish before snagging one of four at-large bids. Overall, her time placed sixth, and moved her to fifth in New Mexico history.
Connor, a senior from Hertfordshire, England, took aim in heat four of the 1500, easily securing one of the auto bids via her section-winning time of 4:21.27. She finished 11th overall, giving UNM multiple qualifiers in the women’s 1500 for the third year in the last four (2013 and 2014).
Calli Thackery also advanced on Saturday, posting a seventh-place time of 16:16.15 in the 5000. The junior from Yorkshire, England, took the lead for a portion of her race, but finished sixth in her section, missing one of the five automatic berths.
But, like Hosker-Thornhill, her time withstood the second heat and pushed her through to Eugene. It’s her second straight appearance at the NCAA finals in the 5000. She was sixth in 2015.
The final two women’s qualifiers came in the triple jump, where Jannell Hadnot and Aasha Marler both punched their tickets.
Marler, a senior from Albuquerque, captured her bid by finishing 11th with a leap of 42 feet, 2 inches (12.85 meters). After missing out on qualifying in the long jump Friday, she managed to become the third Lobo to make the NCAA finals in the event.
Hadnot also advanced, becoming the fourth UNM athlete to do so. But after a relatively short jump and a foul to open her three-attempt series, the junior from Oakland, California, was on the outside looking in.
But Hadnot uncorked a massive jump on her final attempt, leaping 43-10 (13.36m) to win the entire event and emphatically claim her spot in Eugene. She set a lifetime PR by several inches, increasing her outdoor PR by over 10 inches.
She just missed the UNM record by ¾ inch, which was set by All-American Deanna Young in 2010.
On the men’s side, Josh Kerr moved on in the 1500, relying on a strong kick on the bell lap to place second his heat and earn one of the automatic bids. The seventh-place finisher overall, Kerr clocked in at 3:43.67.
It’s the sixth year in the last nine that the men have qualified a runner in the 1500.
From Friday, the Lobos qualified four athletes, including Frerichs in the women’s 3000 steeplechase (first place, time of 9:51.48), Wright in the women’s 10000 (second, 34:21.95), Engholm in the men’s steeplechase (second, 8:42.29) and Hamilton in the men’s long jump (eighth, 24-10 ½).
Meanwhile, New Mexico received strong efforts from the rest of its athletes, including a number of exceptionally close, but not qualifying performances.
Sam Trigg came the closest on Saturday, finishing 16th in the men’s triple jump (51-3), while Adam Cotton competed in the 1500 (18th, 3:45.23). On Friday, it was Graham Thomas in the steeplechase (16th, 8:59.24), Yannick Roggatz in the long jump (30th place, mark of 23-7 ½), Dan Milechman in the 10000 (45th, 31:56.82) and Ridge Jones in the 100 (48th, 17.15).
For the women, Holly Van Grinsven competed in the 100 hurdles (31st, 13.67), while Zoe Howell ran the 800 (37th, 2:11.67). Additionally, Samantha Bowe (29th, 18-11¾) and Marler (35th, 18-9¼) participated in the long jump.
The Lobos will travel to Eugene for the final rounds of the championships on June 8-11. The men will compete on Wednesday, June 8 and Friday, June 10, while the women compete Thursday, June 9 and Saturday, June 11.