Seven members of the Saluki track and field team earned a chance to compete in the NCAA finals after their performances in regional competition.
The finals will be June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa at the Drake University campus. The athletes earned their spots with finishes in the top 12 during the NCAA West Regionals which took place May 24-26 in Austin, Texas.
One of the top performers for the Salukis at regionals was senior thrower Jeneva McCall who qualified for her third NCAA final and will compete in shot put, discus and hammer throw. McCall earned her spot in the finals after throws of 226-10 in the hammer throw for second place, a 177-07 toss in the discus for sixth place and a 58-01 distance in the shot put for third place.
McCall said her confidence level is high as she enters her third NCAA finals and she expects a high finish in the competition. Despite competing in all three throwing events, as well as preparing for the upcoming Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., which start June 21, McCall said she takes everything meet by meet.
“My main focus is to take one event at a time, if you think about doing all three (events) it could become overwhelming, so you’ve got to take it step by step,” McCall said.
McCall said her experience and the set-up of the meet will be an advantage for her at the finals, meaning she will have time to rest between each event.
SIU sent two more throwers to the NCAA finals. Junior Kim Fortney qualified for competition in the shot put with a 53-00.75 toss for tenth place and freshman DeAnna Price qualified in the hammer throw with a 205-05 throw which earned her tenth place as well.
Price is one of the top freshman throwers in the NCAA. Throwing coach John Smith said Price has been one of the best freshmen that he’s worked with in his career, despite her inexperience in the event. Smith said Price has only been throwing the hammer for a year after being one of the top softball players out of high school in the state of Missouri.
“When she can train with the likes of Jeneva, Gwen (Berry), Kim and Brittany Riley… when you’re around that level of throwing every day you can’t help (but progress),” Smith said. “As far as DeAnna is considered 62 meters is just 62 meters when you’re throwing against girls who throw 70 everyday in practice.”
The Salukis also had two jumpers earn a spot in the NCAA finals, as senior Malaikah Love and sophomore Doug Palacious punched tickets to Des Moines, Iowa. Love is a three-time regional qualifier and will make her second trip to the finals with 42-02.25 in the triple jump for an eighth place finish. Palacious will make his first trip to the finals after his 51-02.75 triple jump placed 12th in regionals.
Love entered the outdoor season strictly as a jumper after being a heptathlete for most of her career. Love said the reduction in training for the heptathlon has allowed her to set a new personal best in the triple jump this season. While Palacious is set to make his first trip to the finals, Love said his background in track while growing up in the Bahamas should be an advantage.
“I feel like the fact that they’re from the Bahamas (sophomore Kenya Culmer, Palacious’ cousin, is also from the Bahamas) and that they’ve been in track since they were young kids, that they have more maturity in the sport and have more drive,” Love said. “They know how to compete a lot better than most kids you get coming in… so I feel like they are definitely a different type of athlete than what you’d see here in America.”
On the men’s side, SIU had two more athletes earn trips to finals. Junior Zach Dahleen finished 10th in the 1,500 meter with a 3:46.83 time to earn his first trip to the finals and senior Cody Doerflein will make his second trip to the finals in the pole vault after his 10th place performance with a 17-06.5 vault.