Nation's Best Collegiate Athletes Meet at University of Arkansas
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - This week, the track season will finally come to a close for the nation's top athletes. The University of Arkansas will host the NCAA Championships on the John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville, Ark. starting on Wednesday. Yale sophomore Kate Grace (Los Angeles, Calif.) will be competing against the country's best 800-meter athletes in this prestigious meet.
Grace is one of a field of 27 athletes from all over the country competing in the 800-meter run, all of who had to qualify based on their performances at the NCAA Regional Championships. The Regionals were held over a week ago in four different regions of the country: East Region Championships were at North Carolina A&T State University, Mid East Region at the University of Louisville, West at the University of Oregon and Midwest at the University of Oklahoma. The top five finishers in the finals at each regional meet automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships, while seven other athletes in each event were given at-large bids based on their season bests.
Grace finished third at the East Regionals in Greensboro, N.C. with a time of 2:07.43, after an amazing performance in the qualifying heat the day before, when she ran 2:06.69, her fastest time of the season.
Grace is currently ranked 21st in the field of 27 athletes with her 2:06.69 time. She is the only Ivy League competitor in her event. The top-seeded runner, junior Phoebe Wright of Tennessee, has a personal best of 2:02.15 (last year Wright finished sixth in the finals). Last year's champion, senior Geena Gall of Michigan, is ranked second with a time of 2:02.29.
"These girls are the best in the event," Grace says. "I know them all by name - I've heard them and I've seen them at various meets over the course of the season. I'm not really close with any of them, but after awhile you get to know them by sight and by reputation. I'm really excited for the competition. They'll be good races."
The NCAA record in the 800-meter run is 1:59.11, set in 1990 by three-time Olympian Suzy Favor. The only Ivy League competitor who has ever won a NCAA title in the event is Harvard's Meredith Rainey. As a team Yale has never placed above 20th, though the Bulldogs send competitors nearly every year, and they have routinely scored.
Grace is no stranger to big championship meets, having competed at the outdoor NCAAs last year, and the indoor NCAA Championships in March. Last year Grace was one of only three freshman in her event at the NCAAs. She received an at-large bid, and ended up finishing 24th with a time of 2:09.47. On her way to the indoor NCAAs, Grace repeatedly broke the school record in the 800-meter run, with her fastest time at the Championships: 2:04.72. She earned All-American honors for her eighth-place finish in the finals.
Grace compares the experiences of the NCAAs: "The outdoor competition is bigger: literally bigger and better competition. Because there are more competitors, there are three days of races, which is different, and much bigger crowds, which is fun. It's incredible - a really special kind of event. You have to stop and take it all in. We have practice with crowds that large at Penn Relays, but normally track is not the biggest spectator sport, so it's always exciting to have that many people. Last year in Iowa - they have a big track culture there - there was a huge banner welcoming all of the NCAA athletes. Every hotel is booked with athletes - we completely take over the town. It's just such a special event."
In this outdoor season, Grace won the Heptagonal Championships (2:09.01) for All-Ivy honors and the ECAC Championships (2:08.44 finals, 2:06.75 preliminary) for All-East honors.
Grace has stayed at Yale to train all through the Championship season, after most Yalies have returned home after their exams.
"I've been weight training with Coach every other day, and then on off-days I run on my own," Grace explained. "I've gotten some of the guys on the men's team to train with me, which makes a big difference - it's so nice to have a training partner. I can't train with Jeff Lachman [Yale senior competing in the discus throw at NCAAs], clearly, because he's a thrower, but there are other guys who are in New Haven for summer jobs who I can run with."
Because the meet is so large, there are three rounds of competition at the NCAA Championships. Grace will run one of the four preliminary heats on Wednesday the 10th at 5:30 p.m. CT. If she is one of the top three finishers in her heat, or if she is one of the next four runners with the fastest times, then she will make it to Thursday's semi-finals (7:15 p.m. CT). If she can finish in the top three, or have one of the next two fastest times, Grace will qualify for the finals - the nation's eight fastest 800-meter runners - scheduled for Saturday the 13th at 12:19 p.m. CT.
The meet will be broadcast live at CBSSports.com, and live results will be recorded at FlashResults.com. Results will also be posted at the end of the day at YaleBulldogs.com. More information about the NCAA Championships can be found at NCAA.com and at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
Report by Kyle Eichner '12, Yale Sports Publicity