LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Gary Pepin hopes the Big Ten outdoor championships were only the launching point for his Husker men's track and field team.
If they were, and the Huskers stay sharp this week, No. 10 Nebraska should be set up to do well at the NCAA outdoor meet that starts June 5 in Eugene, Ore.
Including relay members, Nebraska will have 20 men at the West Regional that runs Thursday through Saturday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas. Each individual or relay unit must place in the top 12 in its event to advance to NCAAs.
“The majority of kids going down there should have a meet that will be as good or better than what they had in the conference meet,” Pepin said. “Part of that will just be due to the weather. We've had the chances to finally get outdoors and do some things at high speeds because it's been a lot warmer. But it'll be the same thing with a lot of Northern schools that go down there.”
Better conditions the past 10 days in Lincoln have followed the Big Ten outdoor championship that the Husker men won in Columbus, Ohio. They blew away that field with 131.5 points and now advance one of the higher number of men to compete at regionals.
“The majority of people we have going — not all of them — are people that have a legitimate shot,” Pepin said.
The longtime NU coach still doesn't agree with the regional format as the determining factor for NCAA spots. The West and East fields have 48 entrants for each event, and while the top 12 advance, there are no champions crowned and no team scoring kept.
“It's a little bit like the Olympic Trials,” Pepin said. “You could have the world record-holder go down to this meet, be sick that day and he doesn't compete. That's what it's like.”
In addition to the 20 men, Nebraska is taking 14 women to the West meet. The Husker women finished sixth at the Big Ten outdoor championships.
On the men's side, Nebraska has 11 individuals or relay teams seeded in the top 20 of their events. Among the best of those are Chad Wright in the discus (second) and shot put (fourth), the 1,600 relay team (second), Janis Leitis in the long jump (fifth), Miles Ukaoma in the 400 hurdles (seventh), the 400 relay team (seventh) and Ricco Hall in the 200 (eighth).
Pepin, however, isn't ruling out somebody like Patrick Raedler in the long jump, Tibor Koroknai in the 400 hurdles, Dexter McKenzie in the sprints or any of three runners in the 400.
On the women's side, Mara Griva is seeded fourth in the triple jump and 10th in the long jump, and won both events at the Big Ten outdoor meet. Jessica Furlan is seeded third in the 3,000 steeplechase and Maggie Malone eighth in the javelin.
Pepin said Griva will see high-level competitors at the top of both the triple jump and long jump fields.
“She should do well,” he said. “Her training has been going well. Last year she was hurt all year, so she's still just starting to catch up to where she should be. Hopefully she'll have a good meet in both events.”
Nebraska already has NCAA qualifiers in the decathlon (Teran Walford) and heptathlon (Anne Martin), which are not contested at the regional meet.
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