Seven members of ISU track and field seek national titles at NCAA Championship

Senior Ejiro Okoro runs in the 4×1600 relay during the women’s final at the Drake Relays on April 24 at Drake Stadium. Iowa State placed second with a school best time of 19:13:62.

Max Dible

Coming out of the Big 12 Championship, ISU men’s and women’s track and field teams earned a combined 22 bids to the NCAA West Regional. After the regional meet concluded, that number had been cut by 15, as numerous Cyclones were forced to shelve their national title hopes for another year.

Seven Cyclones remained to claim their spot on the biggest stage. Clad in cardinal and gold, they stand in contrast to the lush green countryside of Eugene, Ore., the backdrop of the 2014 NCAA Championship, as they seek national titles against America’s track and field elite.

Based on the seedings, the athletes representing Iowa State range across the spectrum in their respective events from underdogs to legitimate contenders for a national crown. The seeding system can be misguiding, however, as it is handled differently at the NCAA Championship than it is at other events.

“The seeds for outdoor are a little bit different than indoor in that they seed it from the regional meet,” said junior shot putter Christina Hillman. “They do not base it off of your overall season [personal record].” 

Hillman said that if the meet was slotted based on season bests, she would be seeded fourth in the shot put. As per the current system, Hillman finds herself ranked second in the shot put at the most competitive meet of the season.

Hillman claimed the NCAA National Indoor Championship title in the shot put and earned the top spot on the podium at the Big 12 Outdoor Championship as well as the NCAA West Regional en route to Oregon.

Based on both precedent and seeding, Hillman looks to be Iowa State’s best chance at a national title, but she will have to contend with the likes of Purdue senior Dani Bunch, who outthrew Hillman in the regional qualifying round by .02 meters.

Missouri throwers, juniors Kearsten Peoples and Jill Rushin, were also mentioned by Hillman as stiff competition that she hopes will inspire her best performance, as she said she is entering the championship expecting to win.

“There are five or six girls I know can do well, but that actually pushes me harder I think,” Hillman said. “I have been working really hard and I believe in what I am doing. I am not going to approach this with a cocky attitude, but with an attitude that I want this more than anyone else.”

The next highest qualifier for Iowa State is junior runner Edward Kemboi. Kemboi won the NCAA West Regional title in the 800-meter run on the strength of a time of 1 minute, 47.4 seconds. That time was good enough to qualify Kemboi in third place, setting him up to make a run for a national title as well.

Redshirt junior Katy Moen is the only ISU athlete competing in two events at the NCAA Championship, qualifying in both the 5,000-meter and the 10,000-meter runs.

Moen won the West Regional title in the 10,000-meter event but posted a slower time than nine qualifiers from the east region, landing her the 10th seed. She qualified in 22nd place out of 24 in the 5,000-meter run.

Senior Ejiro Okoro is seeded 14th in the 800-meter run on the women’s side, more than two seconds behind Georgia senior Megan Malasarte, who comes in ranked first.

However, Okoro said that if she runs her personal best, she fully expects to finish in the top eight — a significant benchmark in that it would earn her All-American honors.

“On the day, anything can happen,” Okoro said. “It is just like any other race. I am just going [to go out] and do what I love to do.”

It is Okoro’s second trip to nationals, and she said that her initial experience has prepared her to reach her pinnacle in what will be the last meet of her collegiate career.

“The first time around, I got bumped in the [preliminary] round,” Okoro said. “I felt like last year was more feeling it out and getting my feet wet, where this year I am more focused on going out and actually getting into the final and doing well.”

Okoro will be joined by her sister, senior Ese Okoro, who qualified 18th in the 400-meter hurdles. This is Ese’s third trip to the NCAA Championship, and she said that claiming All-American honors is also the bar she has set for herself. She added that her final meet will be different than those she has participated in throughout the past.

“It has been a great experience,” Ese said. “But, this is probably the one that counts. Everyone wants to do well and go out well. I do especially because it is my senior year. I want to make the final.”

Redshirt junior Kelly McCoy enters the national meet seeded 17th in the high jump but is trending upward as she posted a career-best mark of 1.77 meters in the last jump she made at regionals.

Sophomore Jan Jeuschede is the final ISU athlete in the field, qualifying for the men’s shot put in the 21st position with a throw of 18.49 meters.

As for the team competitions, it is virtually impossible for the men’s side to make a dent with only two participants, each competing in only one event.

On the women’s side, the outlook on the team competition is a little sunnier. With five athletes competing in six events, Hillman said the ISU women have a chance to make a splash.

“I definitely think on the women’s side we could get top 20, no problem,” Hillman said. “We have some really good competitors. There are a lot of good teams out here.”

The Cyclones arrived in Eugene, Ore. on June 8. The NCAA Championship  begins June 11 and runs through June 14.