Junior Curtis Wideman; Photo Credit by Jake Haines
May 30, 2014
By Tyler Wooten
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- It was another successful day for Saluki track and field as Southern punched three more tickets for the NCAA Outdoor Championships (Eugene, Ore., June 11-14) at Day Two of the NCAA West Region Preliminary Round Championships on Friday at John McDonnell Field.
SIU opened the day in the men's hammer throw, where junior Curtis Wideman posted a gutsy performance in order to reserve his spot in Eugene. Wideman, a native of Evanston, Ill., qualified for the regional meet in three events (hammer, shot put, discus), but his ranking entering competition in the hammer was his highest of the three (14th in NCAA West Region). That said, coming into today's event it was more than likely Wideman was going to need to throw a new personal-best in order to make it to nationals. Which, he did in finals with his fifth throw of 64.32m (211-00) -- nearly a two-foot PR that improves on his standing in fourth all-time in Saluki history.
"Today I felt amazing," Wideman said. "The ball felt great and I was more confident in my abilities to throw far. I was really prepared and it felt good."
However, Wideman was on the bubble in 10th place after his first four throws hovered around 200-to-203 feet. Knowing an improvement would lock up a trip to Oregon, Wideman uncorked one at 211 feet to seal the deal and push him up to fifth overall.
Wideman finished 16th in the shot put yesterday, but he still has one more chance for another go at nationals in tomorrow's men's discus at 3 p.m.
Southern's next national qualifier was freshman Kyle Landon in the high jump, who earned his first trip to nationals in just his first trip to the regional meet. But, the first-time jitters were no match for Landon on Friday.
"I felt great today, I was excited," Landon said. "I've been preparing myself mentally for this meet so I wouldn't be nervous."
The Chester, Ill., native was one of 11 competitors to clear 2.16m (7-01.00), but Landon's biggest jump came one height before that at 2.12m (6-11.50). He missed on his first two attempts, and Landon said he realized then that the calmness he had been working for was bringing him down.
"My heart was at my feet on that third attempt," Landon said. "I really was just being too calm and not attacking at all until I realized I needed to come up big on that jump."
And come up big he did, as Landon came through in the clutch and saved his season with that clearance. The two-time defending Missouri Valley high jump champion now has a chance to become the first Saluki All-American in the high jump since Cameron Wright did so indoors in 1996 (sixth place).
"I'm super excited (to go to nationals)," Landon said. "It's a goal I set coming in this year and I have worked hard to achieve it. I'm just ready to go and have fun and do something big while I'm at it."
SIU's final national qualifier of the day was junior Ashley Gaston, who already scored a trip to Eugene on Thursday with her 12th-place performance in the shot put. Gaston wasn't even in the best-seeded flight of the discus on Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking advantage of the situation.
After two flights, Gaston ranked second among all competitors at 52.63m (172-08), but had to wait for the high-seeded third flight to throw before she could see if she made it into finals.
"I really didn't think I had a chance to make finals," Gaston said. "I finished second in my flight, but the third flight was the best coming in and I didn't think so many people were going to mess up."
What followed was a remarkable stroke of luck, as six of the 16 discus throwers in the third flight missed finals, leaving Gaston in 10th overall and a chance to punch a second ticket to the national meet.
"Once I found out I made it to finals that was just a sign for me to go and take three more throws and be aggressive," Gaston said. "I felt as if I had nothing to lose. It was either I went after it and make it to nationals or hold back and end up at the bottom."
Gaston came out swinging in finals, hitting her best of the day on her first finals throw (fourth throw overall), which travelled 52.68m (172-10) and was good enough to cling to 11th place overall at the end of competition. She now has a chance to become an All-American in both the shot put and discus, a feat which has only been done once before by a Saluki female in SIU history, by Jeneva McCall in 2010 (NCAA Champion in discus, fifth place All-American in the shot put).
"In Eugene I'm looking to compete even harder than I did here in Fayetteville, maybe come up with some big PRs," Gaston said. "That's going to take these next couple weeks of hard practice, and hopeful I can come out making First-Team All-American."
So far, SIU has six tickets to Eugene punched: Gaston in both the shot put and discus, Alexus Scott in the shot put, Josh Freeman in the shot put, Curtis Wideman in the hammer throw and Kyle Landon in the high jump.
Southern also had three additional competitors on Friday that fell short of qualifying for the national meet: Kemar Jones in the 110 meter hurdles (33rd place, 14.36 seconds, 14-hundredths off qualifying for quarterfinals) and both Krista Menghini (17th place, 10:23.76) and Sadie Darnell (33rd, 10:36.51) in the 3000 meter steeplechase.
Coming up on Saturday, SIU will have five more competitors who will attempt to qualify for nationals as well. Both Josh Freeman and Curtis Wideman will kick things off in Flight 1 of the men's discus at 3 p.m., followed by Kenya Culmer in the high jump at 6 p.m. and Luke James in the triple jump at 6 p.m. Finally, Saluki senior Zach Dahleen will run in the first heat of the 1500 meter quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m.
National Qualifiers (through two days)
Salukis Competing Saturday
3:00 p.m. - Josh Freeman, Discus (Flight 1)
3:00 p.m. - Curtis Wideman, Discus (Flight 1)
6:00 p.m. - Kenya Culmer, High Jump (Flight 1)
6:00 p.m. - Luke James, Triple Jump (Flight 2)
6:30 p.m. - Zach Dahleen, 1500 Meter Run Quarterfinals (Heat 1)