LINCOLN — At least for now, Nebraska track and field coach Gary Pepin is out of the prediction game.
He figured his Husker men had a strong chance of winning the Big Ten title. They finished fourth. He figured the women would be lucky to make the top four, and they finished a close second.
“The last time I projected points for the Big Ten meet, it was a disaster,” Pepin joked.
So no guesses for the NCAA championships, which start Friday in Fayetteville, Ark? None. Just hope that solid indoor season has laid the track for a big showing at nationals.
“We’ve prepared about as well as we can,” Pepin said.
Seven men — including the Huskers’ 1,600-meter relay team — will make the trip to the University of Arkansas. Senior Janis Leitis — the Latvian Olympian who transferred to NU for one year — will compete in the long and triple jump, then run the anchor leg of the relay, which is ranked sixth in the nation. Ricco Hall, Dexter McKenzie and Christian Sanderfer are also on the relay.
Senior Patrick Raedler — ranked fourth in the long jump — has an outside shot at the national title. Freshman Dapo Akinmoladun will compete in the 100-meter hurdles. Junior James White — ranked fourth nationally in the high jump — will compete despite a swollen knee.
“He’s certainly doing it, but it’s not like he’s 100 percent,” Pepin said of White, who will also compete against the Olympic silver and bronze medalists.
Just one woman — long and triple jumper Mara Griva — will compete for the Huskers. Finally healthy after a series of limiting injuries, Griva’s ranked eighth nationally in the triple jump and 13th in the long jump, so she’ll have to surpass her season best, Pepin said, to contend for a top finish.
Pepin said he’s never had so few women athletes qualify for a national meet.
“I don’t feel good about that at all,” he said. “That’s probably a direct reflection of our recruiting. We haven’t done a good enough job as we need to do. I blame myself.”
The championships start at 10 a.m. Friday. ESPN 3 — the network’s Internet video channel — will have coverage on Friday and Saturday night.
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