Less than one week before the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, five Missouri athletes learned that they qualified to compete. Monday evening the NCAA Track and Field Committee announced the results it compiled from every Division I indoor meet this season. The indoor season championship field is comprised of roughly the top 16 performers in each event throughout the entire season, lending an up-in-the-air quality to the final week of indoor competition.
“Nearly every school does track,” MU coach Rick McGuire said. “There are thousands and thousands of track athletes, so to end up in the top 16 is an enormous challenge. So literally, you start the year with the hope and intention that you are one of them.”
Senior Ashley Patten, the only female from the Missouri squad to qualify, guaranteed her spot at the championships nearly a month ago when she blasted through the field in the last 50 meters to win the 800-meter race at the Iowa State Classic. Her time of 2 minutes, 4.73 seconds was fast enough to earn an automatic qualification and is the fifth-best entry time.
This will be Patten’s third-consecutive year to compete in the Indoor Championships. In both of her previous years she has earned All-American status byplacing eighth in the 800 meters. This year she hopes to move up in those standings.
“We’re hoping that she gets to do something new, something special for her,” McGuire said.
Junior Marcus Mayes, who also qualified in the 800 meters, is another NCAA veteran, but this is the first time he will be competing solo. Last year he qualfied as part of the distance medley relay, where his 800-meter leg of the race helped the team to an All-American eighth-place finish.
“It is my first solo NCAA, so I think there will be a few nerves working,” Mayes said. “Either way you just gotta go out and do the best you can do. Whether it is on a relay and you do the best you can do on your leg, or if its solo, just show up and do what you gotta do.”
Mayes said his major goal is to make it out of his preliminary heat and on to the finals, no small feat when competing against the best in the nation.
“It’s the top of the top, so all I have to do is compete my hardest and give 100 percent and get good results,” said Mayes, who is ranked 15th nationally in the event.
With a stellar performance in the weight throw at last weekend’s last chance qualifier in Ames, Iowa, redshirt freshman Chris Rohr became the youngest Missouri athlete to earn a spot this year. He is heading into the championships ranked 15th.
“He qualified by making this great throw on his last throw. You know, it’s a story book deal,” an unapologetically excited McGuire said. “Who knows what he might do. He’s on a roll, let him keep rolling. It’s really a thrill, particularly in what he does. For a freshman, that’s really rare.”
McGuire’s enthusiasm was rivaled only by Rohr himself.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “I’m still on cloud nine about it.”
As a freshman, Rohr said he feels like he is still finding his place on the team.
“I’m finding my niche in the whole thing, where I can actually say I’m somewhat good at this,” he said. “Where before it was just like, man, this is just a 35-pound weight I’m throwing. I (realized), oh, I do have some talent with this. I’ve come a long way from last year, but still got a long ways to go.”
Junior heptathletes Hans Uldal (ranked fourth) and Bjorn Sommerfeldt (ranked 15th), round out the five Missouri athletes who will be traveling to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to compete among the best in the nation.