Jayhawks Send Two Relays to Nationals on Last Day of West Prelim

NCAA West Preliminary
John McDonnell Field // Fayetteville, Arkansas

Senior DeMario Johnson helped the Kansas men earn a spot at the NCAA Championships with his leg in the 4×400-meter relay Saturday.
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Kansas track & field had a strong finish at the 2014 NCAA West Preliminary as the women’s 4×100-meter relay and men’s 4×400-meter relay earned the Jayhawks’ final spots at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Saturday at John McDonnell Field. In all, KU will see six entries, (three women, one man and two relays) at the National Championships two weeks from now in Eugene, Oregon.

After already claiming a spot in the NCAA long jump final earlier in the week, sophomore Sydney Conley joined forces with senior Diamond Dixon, junior Alisha Keys and sophomore Tianna Valentine in the quarterfinals of the 4×100-meter relay. The group entered the event as the No. 11 seed in the west region and the quartet managed to live up to billing as the Jayhawks earned the 11th of 12 qualifying spots out or the West Region. The foursome passed the baton around in 44.75, which earned them a fourth place finish in their quarterfinal heat. The time was good enough to give KU the pass to the national semifinals at the NCAA Championships is two weeks, which will take place on Wednesday, June 11 at 6:15 p.m. (CT).
The Kansas women will see their 4×100-meter relay advance to Nationals for the second-straight year. Last season, Dixon and Valentine were members of the First Team All-American squad that took fifth in the NCAA final.
In the meet’s final event, the KU men were faced with their final chance to punch a ticket to Eugene as they lined up for the 4×400-meter relay. Sophomore Drew Matthews led off for Kansas and set the tone early, giving Jayhawks the early advantage after the first quarter-mile. Senior DeMario Johnson and sophomore Jaime Wilson were next on the stick and they kept their team well within striking distance heading into the final leg. Michael Stigler, who had already punched his ticket to Nationals in the 400-meter hurdles Friday, anchored the team home and crossed the finish in a season-best 3:07.16, good enough for fourth in the heat but just off an automatic spot.
The Jayhawks were then forced to watch two nerve-wracking heats to see if their time was good enough to earn one of three non-automatic qualifying spots. Following the third and final quarterfinal heat Kansas’ time outpaced BYU by .13 seconds to give the Jayhawks the 12th and final spot at Nationals. KU will compete in the NCAA semifinals on Thursday, June 12 at 8:20 p.m. (CT).

Once again a Jayhawk came tantalizingly close to extending his season, but missed out by the slimmest of margins. Freshman Mitchell Cooper, looking to earn his first trip to the NCAA Championships in the discus, posted a top throw of 56.50 meters (185’4″) on his third attempt, which was the best throw out of the 32 competitors in the first two flights of the event. The mark carried Cooper into finals but he was unable to improve on that mark. Sitting in the 12th and final qualifying spot with one round to go, Cooper was passed by California’s Derek White, who out threw the Jayhawk by only three centimeters after posting a mark of 56.53 meters (185’5″).
Cooper’s season is not yet over however as he has already been selected by his native Australia to represent his country at the IAAF World Junior Championships to be held in Eugene, Oregon July 22-27.

Kansas will send a total of five entries to the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore. Hosted by the University of Oregon at Historic Hayward Field, the No. 13-ranked Kansas women will see the following compete for national titles: Sydney Conley (long jump and 4x100m relay), Jessica Maroszek (discus), Lindsay Vollmer (heptathlon) as well as Diamond Dixon, Alisha Keys and Tianna Valentine (4x100m).

Junior Michael Stigler will be the only individual entry for the Kansas men after he advanced through to the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles for the third-straight year. He will join Drew Matthews, DeMario Johnson and Jaime Wilson in the 4×400-meter relay.
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