CEDAR FALLS — Fresh off its first Missouri Valley Conference men’s outdoor track and field championship since 2009, Northern Iowa has 20 athletes — 15 men and five women — participating in Sacramento, Calif., this weekend at the NCAA West Preliminary.
Second-year UNI head coach Dave Paulsen, who was honored as the MVC coach of the year for the second consecutive season a week ago, said the Panthers’ success in preliminary rounds paved the way for what became a one-point team win in Terre Haute, Ind.
“We just focused on the process of getting through each day,” Paulsen said. “Doing what we can control each day. We did a really good job in the preliminary rounds and put a lot of guys in the finals. You do that and you know you’ve got a good shot. We were in a really good position last year to win. Came up a little short but I think they just carried that with them.”
Many of the Panthers that starred a week ago at the MVC Championships are positioned well to compete for a ticket to the NCAA Championships in June. Twelve of 48 competitors in each event at the West Preliminary advance to the national meet. Events begin Thursday and end Saturday.
A year ago, then-senior Brandon Carnes was ranked first and fifth headed into the West Preliminary in the 100 and 200-meter dashes. This year, no Panthers rank inside the top 12 of their events, but many are within the top 20.
In field events, Sarah Pate, Isaac Holtz and Keegan Tritle are inside the top 20 of the hammer throw, discus and shot put, respectively. Jacob Smith ranks 16th in the 400 hurdles and the UNI 4x100 400-meter relay team enters at No. 15. JoJo Frost enters the men’s 400 hurdles ranked 16th, and Brette Corey enters the women’s 800-meter run inside the top 20.
No Panthers are shoe-ins for Eugene, Ore., like Carnes was a season ago, but Paulsen’s been around long enough to see No. 38 reach No. 12 and qualify.
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“We try not to reinvent the wheel. You do what you did to get here,” Paulsen said. “This can be kind of an intimidating environment. It’s the top athletes in the West. So you’ve just got to simplify it down and be confident in what you did to get to this point. I think we’re going to have a good meet. I’m excited to see what they can do because I think they’ve got the right mindset coming off of the conference championships.”