Tech track primed for NCAA preliminary
LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas Tech's postseason continues this week in Sacramento for the NCAA West Preliminary, where the Red Raiders will fight against the best from the West Region for spots in the upcoming NCAA Championships in Austin.
The Red Raiders will enter that fight against the region's best not only as the top team in the West, but the top program in the nation as well. To Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Wes Kittley, though, that distinction is not – and has not been – a point of emphasis.
"We've been ranked high all year long," said Kittley of his men's team, which has held the top ranking for all but one week throughout the entirety of the indoor and outdoor seasons. "We see it each week but we don't look at it. We just keep moving forward and take it one day at a time."
Texas Tech's trip to California will come two weekends after the top-ranked men's team completed its second-consecutive sweep of the indoor and outdoor Big 12 Championships. The Red Raiders landed just 11 points shy of the conference meet record with 164 as a team.
The dominance in Norman came along with two meet records – in each of which Divine Oduduru had a hand. The junior defended his individual title in the 100m, becoming the first to ever break the 10-second barrier at a Big 12 Championship meet after running a 9.99. He did so after running the second leg for a Tech 4x100 relay team that also set the conference meet record. His group ran a 38.83, which also stands as the new school record.
Norman Grimes Jr. nearly ran a meet record as well, coming just one-tenth of a second with his winning time of 49.11. The sophomore took control of the national lead with the time, though since he has been surpassed by USC's Cameron Samuel and his 49.09. The two hurdler's conference meet PRs will set up a very fast regional duel between the two.
"I'm running new times," Grimes said when asked if he felt he was peaking at the right point of the season. "They're definitely, PRs, but I think there's a lot more in the tank and I can run faster."
Tech's other top-two individual heading into the NCAA West Preliminary is Duke Kicinski, whose school-record 208'-2" (63.45m) from April has him top in the region and second in the nation overall.
The women's team will be led at regionals by Zarriea Willis, the fourth-ranked high jumper in the West and defending indoor national champion. The horizontal jumps crew will stack four in the long jump and three in the triple, led by Chinne Okoronkwo and Chelsey Cole, who have qualified for both events. Ivy Walker, who ranks fourth in the long jump, will also run the 100m hurdles.
Okoronkwo will also pole vault, an event in which she completed the indoor/outdoor conference sweep last weekend with a Big 12 Outdoor Championship. She ranks 10thin the West in the event.
"I had a rocky start to pole vault this outdoor season," she said. "But that conference meet made me feel a lot better about pole vault and made me a lot more confident. I'm ready to go and do the same thing at regionals and, hopefully, nationals."
Tech's strong women's hurdles team will be led by Alaysha Johnson, a senior whose breakout 400m hurdles PR of 57.81 at the Corky/Crofoot Shootout is good for the 10th-ranked spot in the West. Johnson will run alongside fellow quarter-hurdler Damajahnee Birch, who ranks 13th. She will also run the 100m hurdles – in which she ranks seventh – with Walker and Rose Njoku, who together make three Tech hurdlers in the top-35 for the short hurdles.
With less than two weeks separating the regional meet and the national championship, Kittley reminds his team the top priority is getting through the weekend – not busting out a record time and exhausting oneself physically. The times they have worked for earlier in the season were good enough to get them here; now the only goal is being top-12 in one's event, regardless of time.
"There can be a tendency to do too much," Kittley said before his team departed Wednesday. "We fight against that and tell them to go do what they've been doing. Their times are good enough to get them through. They don't need to be perfect, just good enough to be top-12."
The NCAA West Preliminary, hosted by California State, Sacramento and the Sacramento Sports Commission, will begin Thursday at 12 p.m. PT. Live results will be available here.