Multiple Eastern athletes vying for top-12 finishes and a NCAA National Championship berth
For 11 Eastern Washington University track and field athletes, the season has extended for at least another week as the team will travel down to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the NCAA Division I West Region Preliminary Rounds on Thursday-Saturday (May 29-31).
“We love the championship stretch of the season,” said head men’s coach Stan Kerr. “Obviously, the best athletes who have performed well are awarded with another chance to show their skills.”
“We’ve qualified seven women and that’s the most we’ve had in a while,” said head women’s coach Marcia Mecklenburg. “I’m really excited about that. We have most event areas covered, so that says a lot of our depth. We’ve got a good shot at moving some kids along to the national meet.”
The meet will be hosted by the University of Arkansas at John McDonnell Field. It serves as a preliminary round for the NCAA Championships, which will be contested on June 11-14 in Eugene, Oregon. Athletes who place in the top 12 in their respective event will advance to the National Championship meet.
“One thing that is different about this weekend is that it is an advancement meet,” said Kerr “The goal is to perform at a high level, but the underlying tone is doing what you need to nail your spot for Eugene.”
Eastern will be sending seven women and four men to the meet, improving on its qualifying total of nine from last season’s meet in Austin, Texas. The group includes two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.
“It’s really nice having 11 athletes here,” said Kerr. “That’s a quality group of people and we’re nicely represented in multiple event areas. We’re just looking forward to three days of competition with some outstanding fields.”
The Eagle men will be sending four throwers, including seniors Zack Nielsen and Jon Buchanan, junior Jordan Arakawa and sophomore Joey Payne.
The trio of hammer throwers in Arakawa, Nielsen and Buchanan has been stellar for Eastern this season, as they put together a one-two-three sweep of the weight throw indoors at the Big Sky Championships. They followed up with a one-two-four finish outdoors in the hammer, with Nielsen claiming his first conference title and Arakawa placing second. Arakawa is ranked the highest for the Eagles heading into the weekend with a seasonal-best of 219-3 in the hammer (seventh). Nielsen ranks 21st with a toss of 203-5 and Buchanan sits 46th (196-6) as both had personal bests at the Big Sky meet.
"It’s been a formula that has been very successful for our program,” said Kerr. “Jordan, Zack and Jon have pushed each other and it has led them to a great opportunity. On any given day someone can have a great day and put them in a position to advance.”
Buchanan will also compete in the shot put this weekend, an event he claimed his first Big Sky title in less than two weeks ago. His seasonal-best mark of 57-11 3/4 ranks 31st in the field.
“Jon is a double-event qualifier and a senior who is showing how hard work can pay off,” said Kerr. “He has earned the privilege to compete in this meet.”
Payne is two for two in qualifying for the regional meet in his career, as he competed last season as a freshman. The sophomore out of Richland High School has the 41st-best mark in the javelin (206-4).
“To get to regionals as a freshman is phenomenal and Joey has now made back-to-back appearances,” said Kerr. “That is showing that the dividends from last year have paid off.”
On the women’s side, Eastern will send juniors Olivia Midles and Emma Murillo, sophomores Katie Mahoney, Catie Arrigoni and Morgan Romey, along with freshmen Courtney Bray and Paula Gil-Echevarria. Mecklenburg noted her enthusiasm about the women’s team’s future, as this regional group of seven women will all return next season for the Eagles.
“I’m excited about next year and hosting the Big Sky meet with a young talented crew,” said Mecklenburg. “I think we’ll be pretty good in the next couple years and this will be one more meet to give them essential experience.”
Mahoney, Arrigoni and Gil-Echevarria have experienced breakthrough after breakthrough this season, posting the top-three times in school history in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The trio fought through the difficult elevation at the Big Sky meet to finish first (Arrigoni), third (Mahoney) and fifth (Gil-Echevarria) in the event. Arrigoni added a second-place finish in the 5,000 and Mahoney was fourth in the 1,500. Mahoney’s school record of 10:17.34 ranks 18th heading into the competition, while Arrigoni is 26th (10:20.75) and Gil-Echevarria is 43rd (10:29.03).
“This will be a pretty cool meet to watch them compete in,” said Mecklenburg. “Katie has regional experience and there’s no reason we can’t get a couple qualifiers. Catie has the momentum right now, but anything can happen between the three of them. That will be a fun race to watch.”
Mahoney will also take on the 1,500 this weekend, an event she sits 43rd in with her time of 4:25.33, which also broke her own school record. She was 21st in the steeplechase at the meet last season as a freshman.
Another highly-ranked Eagle is freshman-phenom Bray, who claimed the Big Sky outdoor pole vault title in the in her first appearance. Her best mark of 13-6 1/4 this season ranks 18th amongst the field.
“Courtney has been improving each meet and I expect that to continue,” said Mecklenburg. “She almost cleared 13-10 at conference and I know she is in range. If she can get that mark than I think she has a legitimate shot.”
Midles will be making her third career appearance at the regional meet in the hammer throw, an event she has the 23rd-best mark in (195-10).
“Olivia has looked really good in workouts and I think she’s ready for a big mark,” said Mecklenburg. “I would love to see her go after the school record and she’s got a shot at contending for a top-12 spot.”
Murillo booked her ticket to the meet after launching a huge seasonal and personal best of 158-2 in the javelin at the Big Sky meet, claiming the conference title and shocking the field. That mark sits 24th in the region.
“Emma is coming off a Big Sky title,” said Mecklenburg. “If she can duplicate what she did at the conference meet, that should certainly be a threat for the top 12.”
Romey will be making her first West Regional appearance, and ranks 46th in the shot put with a personal-best throw of 48-6 1/4.
“This will be Morgan’s first experience at a meet of this caliber and to make it in the shot put as a sophomore is pretty impressive,” said Mecklenburg. “It will be a great learning experience for her and I think she will have a good meet.”
Murillo will open the weekend for the Eagles, as the women’s javelin will kick off the meet Thursday at 10:00 a.m. (PST). Live stats, video and more information on the meet are available at http://www.arkansasrazorbacks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=6100&ATCLID=209418169&KEY=&DB_OEM_ID=6100&DB_LANG=C&IN_SUBSCRIBER_CONTENT= .
Preliminary Qualifiers (with ranking, event and time of competition [PST])
Buchanan (31st) – Shot Put, Thursday at noon (2 CST)
Arakawa (7th), Nielsen (21st), Buchanan (46th) - Hammer Throw, Friday @ 8 a.m. (10 CST)
Payne – Javelin (41st) Thursday @ 3:30 p.m. (5:30 CST)
Mahoney (18th), Arrigoni (26th), Gil-Echevarria (43rd) – Steeplechase, Friday @ 7:30 p.m. (9:30 CST)
Mahoney (43rd) – 1,500, Thursday @ 4 p.m. (6 CST), Quarterfinals Saturday @ 4:45 p.m. (6:45 CST)
Bray (18th) – Pole Vault, Thursday @ 4:30 p.m. (6:30 CST)
Midles (23rd) – Hammer Throw, Saturday @ 8 a.m. (10 CST)
Murillo (24th) – Javelin, Thursday @ 10 a.m. (noon CST)
Romey (46th) – Shot Put, Thursday @ 4:30 p.m. (6:30 CST)