Field Set for 2010 NCAA Championship Preliminaries
CHICAGO - Watch out NCAA Championships. The Blue Demons are heading your way.
A record-setting eight student-athletes of the DePaul track and field team have qualified for the NCAA Championship West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas on May 27-29, including Melissa Fraser, Alanna Kovacs, Mary Cate Quiett, Matthew Graham, Brad Millar, Tim Nedow, Joe Strawder and Tonderai Tomu.
"At the beginning of the year we set some tangible goals as a team," commented head coach Patrick J. Savage shortly after the announcement. "We wanted to score more points than ever before at the BIG EAST Conference Championship, we wanted to have more student-athletes qualify for the NCAA prelims, and we wanted to break more school records than ever before."
This season, in addition to the eight postseason qualifiers, the Blue Demons scored a combined 73 points at the league championship between both the men's and women's squads, and have rewrote 20 school records-- both program bests.
Even more impressive, perhaps, is how many different events DePaul has qualified in. All the disciplines will have at least one Blue Demon representative, including the throws, jumps, sprints, middle distance and distance categories.
With the success ranging such a diverse spectrum, Savage was quick to praise his support staff for this season's unprecedented achievements.
"I have good assistance coaches. I really do," boasted Savage. "We work together as a unit on team building, but when we divide up, I'm never going to question what Coach (Dave) Dopek is doing with the sprinters and jumpers, or what Coach (Brandon) Murer is having the throwers do. We trust each other."
The road to the NCAAs is slightly different this year than in seasons past. Under the old qualification format, a student-athlete had to meet a predetermine standard to earn a bid to one of four regional championships. This season the NCAA moved to a rankings format where the top-48 individuals in one of two regions, per event, were granted berth in postseason competition.
Twelve student-athletes - per event - from each preliminary round site, one in Austin, the other in Greensboro, N.C., will feed into the 2010 NCAA Championship field.
Not that this is new territory for Fraser, Kovacs, Quiett, Millar and Strawder, who have now all qualified for the NCAA Regionals during every season of their DePaul careers. Last season, Millar placed fourth in the hammer throw to become the second student-athlete in the Coach Savage era to advance to the NCAA Championships.
This season, the senior must place in the top-12 to advance to the championship round. He currently ranks sixth in the West Region with his season-best throw of 66.13m, and 13th in amongst the entire NCAA Division I field.
Fraser holds the distinction of being the first female thrower to compete at the NCAA Championships for the Blue Demons, having done so during her 2008 campaign with a third-place finish in the javelin at the Mideast Regional. Now a junior, Fraser enters the prelims as the seven seed. If that weren't enough, she is one of four DePaul student-athletes to qualify in multiple events, and is slated to throw the hammer as well.
In fact all of the Blue Demon field-event qualifiers, with the exception of Millar, are slated to compete in multiple events. Strawder, who has competed in either the long or triple jump in each of the past three seasons, will take on both for the first time in his remarkable career. Nedow is set to throw both the shot put and the discus, while Kovacs joins Fraser in the javelin in addition to battling in the discus.
This is the first time that any DePaul student-athlete has qualified, and declared to compete, in more than one event.
Equally impressive is DePaul's representation on the track. 2010 BIG EAST Conference Indoor 800m Champion Quiett seems to be peaking at just the right time, having lowered her record in the event to 2:06.27 during last weekend's Georgia Tech Invitational. She enters next week's meet at the No. 11 seed.
Graham exploded onto the regional rankings following a third-place performance in the 3,000m steeplechase at the BIG EAST Championship. His time of 8:51.48 was an incredulous 19-second improvement from his previous personal-best time. The sophomore has the tendency to rise to his competition, having placed in the top-three in five steeplechase races this season. The fierce competitor opened his sophomore campaign winning every cross country race of the regular season.
Tomu becomes the first DePaul sprinter since Larry Inanga to qualify for NCAA postseason action. While his time of 47.10 ranks the sophomore at No. 36, less than a second separates him from those in the top-12 who advance to the championships. Like Quiett, Tomu also has been saving his best for last, having lowered his PR in the event last weekend.
Prior to this season, the highest number of student-athletes the Blue Demons have sent to the regionals was six. In 2003, Inanga, Will Lazicki, Jarrod Jahnke, Megan Greeley, Erin Moffett and Lead Rygh competed in the first-ever Mideast Regional Championship.
Action at the 2010 NCAA Championship Preliminary round opens at noon (CST) on Thursday, May 27, at the University of Texas' Mike A. Myers Track and Soccer Stadium.