NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State track and field programs are returning to their pre-pandemic level of qualifiers in the NCAA East Preliminaries, even though marks and time nationwide improved significantly this season.
Twelve different student-athletes have 15 event entries in the preliminaries at Indiana University, which will host the event from May 25-28.
The target is to land in the top 12 individuals or relays to punch a ticket to the NCAA Championships at the University of Oregon.
NSU’s program record of 21 entries was set in 2016, but this season’s 15 entries was accomplished in a more difficult national landscape with more “super seniors” – fifth and sixth-year student-athletes because of extra eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic – supplying better times and marks.
“This is a testament to the athletes and coaches we have to make sure that we were still able to qualify as many as we did, but most of the credit goes to the athletes,” said NSU coach Mike Heimerman. “They are getting it done.
“The faster times across the nation can be attributed to more competitors who are in their fifth and sixth seasons. It was incredibly tough across the board this year.”
To qualify for the NCAA East Preliminaries, athletes had to finish in the top 48 in the East in their individual event or among the top 24 relays.
The Demons will have 12 entries with the Lady Demons compiling three entries.
The men start the four-day competition Wednesday with finals on Friday while the women will do the same Thursday and Saturday.
Three throwers account for five of those entries, which are the first NSU male throwers to qualify since 2018.
Sophomore Djimon Gumbs ranks ninth in the discus (NSU record 193-3) to lead an NSU trio that includes freshman Tarajh Hudson (27th, 186-6) and sophomore Diamante Gumbs (35th, 182-7).
Both Gumbs qualified in the shot put as Djimon sits in 18th (61-11) and Diamante 43rd (58-1).
Staying in the field, pole vaulter Annemarie Broussard will attempt to be the second-ever Lady Demon vaulter to make the NCAAs as the junior enters in 17th with a program record 13-9.75.
Nikaoli Williams is the only NSU athlete to compete in the field and on the track as he is slated for three events after not competing in a fourth for which he qualified (triple jump).
The sophomore will take off in the long jump in 18th place (25-8), run in the 100 meters (45th, 10.24) and run a leg of the 4×100 (12th, 39.35).
Williams will be joined on the relay by seniors Kie’Ave Harry and Tre’Darius Carr, who each ran a leg of the 2018 relay that finished seventh in the NCAA Championship finals.
Others who could run a relay leg include seniors Evan Nafe or Javin Arrington or freshman Simon Wulff.
Harry leads NSU’s 100 meters contingent ranked 10th with a 10.10.
Lynell Washington will make her first regional appearance in the 100 meters, entering in 44th place with an 11.44.
The Demons will be represented in the 200 and 400 meters range.
Wulff and sophomore Dylan Swain will take swings in the 200 as each ran their qualifying time at the NSU Leon Johnson Invitational. Wulff ranks 31st (20.61) and Swain is 35th (20.63).
Junior Destine Scott will take a crack at the 400 meters with his 46.38, which ranks 31st in the field.
Hurdler Janiel Moore returns to regionals in the 400 hurdles ranked 25th with a 58.59, which she clocked in the Demon Last Chance Meet this past week.
Moore, who shaved more than a second off her previous best of 59.71, needed the new PR as her old mark would have fallen .02 seconds short.
Photo: Erik Williams, Southland Conference