Four Cyclones punch tickets to NCAA West Preliminary quarterfinals


Iowa State junior Jason Gomez competes in the 800m run at the ISU Holiday Invitational on Dec. 11, 2021.

Adarsh Tamma

Iowa State kicked off its residency at the NCAA West Preliminary meet Wednesday evening with nine Cyclone athletes in action on both the track and field. It was the first of four days that will ultimately determine who will move onto the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

The men’s team was the first to step into the spotlight at the John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with its efforts primarily concentrated on the middle and long-distance events. At the end of the night, four of Iowa State’s athletes had successfully moved onto the quarterfinals in their respective events. Those races will take place Friday, with the top 12 finishers punching their tickets to the final round.

Too moves onto 1500-meter quarterfinals

Nehemia Too has made the most of his first trip to the regional competition so far, as he earned an automatic qualifier spot in the first round of the 1500.

Too, Iowa State’s first athlete to compete on the track Wednesday, punched his ticket to the next round by finishing fourth in his heat. The top five finishers in each heat, along with the next four fastest qualifiers on time, move onto the quarterfinals. 

Starting in the fourth and final heat of the day, Too surged to the front of the pack at the start of the race and crossed through 300 meters in just over 47 seconds. However, Northern Arizona’s George Kusche, Washington’s Luke Houser, and Pepperdine senior Karl Winter were hot on Too’s heels, but he managed to maintain his advantage through the 700-meter mark. His time of 1:51.66 was just over a tenth of a second ahead of Kusche.

The back half of the race saw the chase pack slowly take over as Kusche moved past Too to take over as race leader with just under 400 meters left. It was a blanket finish at the tape, with Kusche ultimately coming out on top with a time of 3:45.72.

Too’s time of 3:46.61 just beat out Kansas State’s Hadley Splechter (3:46.85), with the pair of athletes being the last two to qualify for the next set of races. Too’s heat was also the slowest of the lot, with Kusche’s time just a bit behind Illinois’ Jonathan Davis. The Illinois senior won heat two with a time of 3:45.30 after another front-running performance.

Too will compete in the first quarterfinal race of the day Friday at 5:15 p.m., with the chance to qualify for a first-ever NCAA Outdoor Championship meet on the line. The top five finishers in each of the two heats contested and the next two fastest time qualifiers will stake their claims at the NCAA Championships.

Three-for-four in 800 meter

The Cyclones’ most successful moment of the night came in the 800-meter race, with the trio of Cebastian Gentil, Jason Gomez and Peter Smith all moving onto the quarterfinals. 

Like Too in the 1500, the half-mile event saw 24 of the 48 athletes qualify for the quarterfinals and was another competitive affair. All three Cyclone athletes earned their spots through automatic qualifier spots, meaning they finished within the top three of their heats.

Gomez was the first to get into the quarters as he finished second in heat two. He was among the nation’s best in the 800m this season, with a season-best time of 1:47.12, putting him at No. 7 at one point in the national rankings.

Gomez drastically improved throughout Wednesday’s race, as he slingshotted from last at the end of the opening lap to within striking distance of the lead. He finished in a time of 1:48.70, 0.20 seconds behind Oregon’s Luis Peralta, who set a new season-best in the process.

Smith and freshman Darius Kipyego were next to go in heat three, where their primary competition was Yusuf Bizimana of Texas. Bizimana is a familiar opponent to the Cyclones, as he won the Big 12 indoor title in February at the Lied Recreation Center in Ames.

The race ended in another fast finish, as the top three placers all crossed the line within less than a second of each other. Smith just beat out Colorado State’s Ryan Birkmeier by finishing in a time of 1:49.13. Kipyego ended his freshman season with a 1:49.54 sixth-place finish.

Gentil was the Cyclones’ sole winner of the day, as he took first-place honors in heat four. It was another tough battle for the junior, as he sat in third after the first lap of the race for the final qualifying spot.

Over the last 400 meters, however, Gentil shifted gears and passed his competitors, ultimately nipping USC’s Bobby Poynter at the tape by two one-hundredths of a second. Gentil, like Smith, will be running in the second round of the 800m at the preliminary meet for the first time in his career.

Pollard misses out on 10K spot

Senior Thomas Pollard’s Iowa State athletics career came to a close during the night’s final event, as he finished 15th in a competitive and tactical 10000-meter semifinal. The top 12 athletes from the field of 24 qualified for the national finals, with the race coming down to a matter of pace.

Pollard and fellow senior Ryan Ford entered the race ranked in the top-50 by the NCAA and were in a field that included Northern Arizona’s Abdihamid Nur. The NAU junior has faced off against Pollard and Ford before, as the trio ran in the Stanford Invitational at the beginning of April. Both Pollard and Ford scored personal bests in that race, with Pollard’s time of 28:23.19 putting him in the top-10 of Iowa State’s all-time leaderboard.

Throughout the race, Pollard wasn’t able to move up into the top-12, as he passed through the 2000-meter mark near the back of the field in a time of 6:06.88. In what was turning out to be a slower and more tactical race, Pollard slowly moved up from 2K to 4K, crossing at 12:00.22 and improving his split by more than 10 seconds.

Ford dropped out with less than 2000 meters left, as he had been in the lead pack with a most-recent split time of 23:25.43 at the 8000-meter mark. However, Ford is not done yet as he will run the 5000 meters Saturday.

Pollard continued his climb towards the top-12, entering 8000 meters with another negative split of 5:37.40. With just 1300 meters to go in the race, Pollard was hanging with the lead pack with a comfortable chance to secure a top-12 finish.

That’s when disaster struck, as Charles Hicks from Stanford collided with Arkansas’ Emmanuel Chebosen causing Pollard to get caught up in the commotion. Although Pollard was the first to get up, the distance from the lead pack had extended out of his reach.

Over the final stretch of the race, Pollard tried to catch up with Gonzaga’s James Mwaura, who held the 12th-place position with stiff competition from Thomas Boyden of Stanford and Ryan Ioanidis of Air Force as well. In the end, both Boyden and Ioanidis passed ahead of Pollard, who crossed the line in a time of 29:04.74. 

Nur won the race to qualify for his second consecutive NCAA Championship 10K. He was able to outlast Cole Sprout of Stanford at the finish, crossing the line in a time of 28:45.90. Nur earned All-American honors in last year’s national final in Eugene, Oregon, by taking third place, with Tulsa’s Devar Patrick winning the title.

In the shot put, Kevin Sakson fouled out of the competition after scratching on all three of his attempts. It was Sakson’s third foul-out of the season in the shot put, as he also failed to produce any legal throws at the Bobcat Invitational and Musco Twilight meets.

Live results of the weekend’s events can be accessed here, with the meet also being live-streamed on the SEC Network.