JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On day two of the NCAA Division I East Region Prelims two Bisons earned spots in the NCAA Division I National Championships thanks to stellar performances.
Juniors Gemikal Prude and Madi Tabert, both former National Championship participants, will be taking yet another trip to Eugene, Oregon to take on the best in their respective events.
Despite some close calls in the high jump, Prude will be advancing to the National Championships for the third time in his career and the second time for outdoor.
"Gemikal looked rough to me,” Lipscomb Director of Cross Country and Track and Field said. “He cleared first height and brushed the bar. He missed first attempt at second height, then cleared it on second attempt and I think he brushed the bar again. I can't remember if he brushed the bar on second attempt clearance on third height or not. It wasn't as smooth and high as he normally jumps.”
The redshirt junior from Melbourne, Florida finished eleventh overall with a top leap of 2.13m, just inside the cutoff for the National Championships.
"It was one of those things were he didn't look his best, but he put it all out there and gutted his way over the clearances he needed,” Taylor said. “He gutted his way to nationals. The high jump is also a funny event, in that sometimes you can look rough at lower heights, then look great as the bar moves up.
“Gemikal may have really loosened up over the next few heights, but we didn't have to find out. Once they only have 12 guys left, they end the competition and send them on to Eugene.
Prude earned honorable mention All-American last year at the Outdoor National Championships, with an even higher honor potentially up for grabs this year.
"What an amazing accomplishment for Gemikal to earn his second straight trip to Outdoor National Finals,” Taylor said. “I think he has some unfinished business he wants to take care of in Eugene.”
Talbert will be joining Prude in Eugene, her third trip in as many years, thanks to a blazing 9:50.57 time and a third place finish in the 3000m steeplechase. Her time was the fourth best time in the nation from the East Region and West Region Prelims combined.
"Wow. That's basically what we are all saying about Madi's race,” Taylor said. “Not that it was surprising she could do that, but it was exciting that she went out and did it.
“We had a plan. She followed it so incredibly well. For the third year in a row she followed her plan and made it happen. For the third year in a row she is headed to the National Championship finals. It was just so awesome to see her out there as one of the best steeplers in the nation.”
The Charlotte, North Carolina native came into this year’s competition as a favorite after forcing her name into the contenders conversation during the past two years.
"This race was a big confidence booster,” Taylor said. “She believed she could do it, but you still have to go out and make it happen. The past two years she was one of the last in with nothing to lose.
“This year she had to handle being one of the favorites to advance. That's a different mentality and can be as tough or tougher. She rose to the challenge and proved to herself that she really can do anything.”
Despite the junior’s high ranking in the event coming into the meet, there were still some who doubted her chances at making it to the National Championships.
"It's funny, she's qualified for nationals her first two years of collegiate track,” Taylor said. “She had the seventh fastest qualifying time this year. But we saw one of the main national publications predictions of who they expected to qualify to Nationals, and her name was not listed. They didn't pick her to go, despite her resume and accomplishments.
“I don't know if that helped or not, but it did help her know that she is still being overlooked, and it may have taken a bit of pressure off. You don't qualify for Nationals from rankings or predictions, you do it with your heart and your lungs.”
In the same event freshman Paige Stoner finished 26th despite posting a time of 10:15.75 that would have earned her a higher spot in recent years.
"Paige ran her guts out too,” Taylor said. “She ran 10:15, which is a personal record and an incredible time for anyone, much less a freshman. Her water barriers and even a lot of her steeple barriers were pretty rough. She kept fighting. Two years ago her time would have been about 13th. Last year it would have been top 15. This year it was 26th.”
The tough field prevented Stoner from qualifying for Nationals, but her time was still a rare one for a freshman.
"The women's steeple, especially in the East Prelim, has improved so much,” Taylor said. “Madi qualified two years ago with a 10:11. Last year 10:08. This year eleven of the twelve qualifiers broke 10 minutes and the final qualifier ran 10:00. Any other year Paige would have had a good chance of qualifying.”
After missing significant time due to a hamstring injury, sophomore Wayne Newman struggled to reach his pre-injury heights in the 110m high hurdle finishing 43rd with a time of 14.61.
"Wayne started things off for us today,” Taylor said. “He fought hard out there, but it was clear that missing the last six weeks with the hamstring injury was too much to overcome.
“We were hoping something positive would happen, but we knew. The 110m high hurdles are a speed and technique event. If you can't develop your speed, and you can't work on your technique, odds are against you.”
The Arizona native gained valuable experience just from competing in the competition.
"Still, he ran as hard as he could and got very valuable experience at a National Prelim Championship,” Taylor said. “He will be back, faster than ever, and he will know how this whole thing works. It's a win for him and the program.”
The final day of the Prelims will see three Bisons taking on the 5000m: Talbert, Stoner and sophomore Sally Larson.
"Tomorrow we close out the National prelims with the Women's 5000m,” Taylor said. “We have three women in: Madi, Paige and Sally Larson. Madi gets a chance at a second event for nationals, Paige gets a second chance, and Sally gets her first chance.
“I've told them anything can happen. We've trained them to be incredible, and they have proven in practice over and over that they are capable of running elite times. They have an intellectual understanding of what the race tactics will look like and what they need to do. It's just for them to relax, believe and throw it all out there.”
Although the stakes are high with spots in the National Championships on the line, Taylor believes that just racing in the Prelims will make the runners better.
"All three can qualify for National Finals,” Taylor said. “All three gain from this experience no matter what. We really cannot lose. But it would be nice to get another one or two to National Finals too."