BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Just have fun.
That’s the mindset with which Northwestern State thrower Djimon Gumbs will approach the NCAA East Preliminaries, which kicks off Wednesday with the first day of the men’s competition at Indiana University.
Gumbs is one of three NSU throwers competing in five events and one of nine male Demons participating in 12 events.
“I just want to give it my best, ignore everything else,” said Gumbs, who excelled at the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships with an outstanding field performer award after not medaling in the indoor championships. “I’m still trying to get better mentally in those situations, but I’ve made it to regionals, so I might as well give it everything I have.
“Having my teammates competing next to me creates fun and enjoyable atmospheres, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll do this week.”
The top 48 individuals in each event from the East Region are hunting for one of 12 spots to advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.
The Demons’ Wednesday slate includes the shot put, long jump and the prelims for the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters.
NSU’s nine males competing in 12 events will join a trio of Lady Demons, who take the track Thursday for their first day of competition.
Throwers and jumpers will take just three attempts without the typical three additional finals attempts – those will occur at the NCAA Championships.
“In a lot of the meets, you do a safety attempt to make sure you make the finals and get three more throws,” said NSU coach Mike Heimerman. “You get three swings at (regionals), and that’s who makes the NCAA Championships.
“You can’t take any safety throws. We’ve got to grip and rip from throw one to throw three and try to be as effective and efficient as we can be.”
Sprinters will compete in a regional preliminary race Wednesday to advance to the regional finals Friday, where the top 12 will then pack their bags for Oregon.
But Destine Scott isn’t taking a “survive and advance” mentality in his 400 meters race. He wants to prove he belongs as the accomplished Southland Conference sprinter is making his first regionals appearance.
“At first, my goal was to get to regionals last year, but I had some injuries I’ve had to bounce back from,” Scott said. “I watched guys like (Kie’Ave Harry) compete from home, and I told myself I’d be there next year.
“I know they’ve enjoyed the regionals experience in the past even if they didn’t get results they wanted, and training with them every day, I just wanted a chance to get that same experience.”
NSU’s competition begins in the long jump with Nikaoli Williams taking flight at 5 p.m. before transitioning to the shot put and the 100 meters (6 p.m.) and ending with the 400 meters (6:25 p.m.) and 200 meters (7:45 p.m.).
Indiana is expecting rain and even thunderstorms throughout this week with temperatures dipping into the 60s in the evening,
The first step in a bid to reach the national championships begins Wednesday for NSU’s group of five male sprinters.
Senior Kie’Ave Harry and sophomore Nikaoli Williams will line up in the 100 meters, sophomore Dylan Swain and Simon Wulff will compete in the 200 meters with Scott running in the 400 meters.
Harry is NSU’s top-ranked competitor as 10.10 in the 100 meters ranks 10th in the NCAA East.
Harry clocked that time at the Southland Conference Championships to snatch silver, making the Southland Conference just one of two conferences in the East to have two top 10 sprinters in the 100 meters.
“It was a great feeling after not feeling too good physically the two weeks before that,” said Harry, who is making his third regionals appearance. “Now that I’m feeling better and went 10.10 for two days at the (SLC Championships), it’s a great feeling to know that I’m healthy.”
“I think I’m really close to putting a full 100 meters together after some good starts and bad finishes, but I’ve learned a lot in the past couple weeks, and I’m ready to put it together. It would mean so much to me to make nationals with Micah (Larkins) doing it and Amir (James) doing it, so I want to send myself off on that note.”
Williams (ranked 41st) is a relative newcomer to the sprints game as he’s been a primary jumper for most of his two NSU seasons. But the lanky leaper clocked a 10.24 to reach the SLC finals and bulled his way into the regionals field.
Both Wulff and Swain, newcomers at NSU, posted their 200 meters time in an incredibly fast heat at the NSU Leon Johnson Invitational.
Wulff, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Germany, will cap his individual season in the 200 after turning in a 20.61 in late April. Swain was hot on his tail, finishing 20.63 in that heat. Wulff ranks 31st and Swain 34th in the region field.
Scott, who won SLC gold in the 400 and silver in the 200, is ranked 32nd after posting a personal record 46.38 at the league championships.
NSU associate head coach Adam Pennington, who is in charge of sprints, said he’s excited to see what this group will do.
“We’ve got a very deep group and a lot of people who are mentally tough, so I don’t count anybody out once they line up next to their competitors,” Pennington said. “You’ve got to approach it like any other meet.
“We’ve got some experienced sprinters and some who are here for the first time, but this is a great experience for everybody considering it’s such a tough year to even make regionals with all the times being significantly faster than previous years.”
Nikaoli Williams uses his sprinter speed to rocket himself down the runway and is ranked 18th in the long jump.
He soared to a personal best 25-8 to capture silver at the SLC Championships.
Williams, who also qualified in the triple jump but will focus on the long jump and sprints because of hip issues, said he’s pumped about his breakthrough.
“It was always been the mindset to get to 26 feet, so that’s been the goal and I’ve been working hard to reach that goal,” Williams said. “Working with the sprinters gives me a lot of speed reps, and that’s really helped me in the long jump.
“I’m finally healthy. I have different eating habits, sleep schedule, just a goal-oriented mindset. That’s been the big difference.”
With three throwers in five events, the 2022 group is the biggest NSU throws cadre since the program sent four throwers (men and women) to regionals in 2016.
Djimon and Diamante Gumbs will compete in the shot put with the pair plus freshman Tarajh Hudson taking part in the discus.
The trio swept the discus podium at the SLC Championships and have all bested NSU’s previous discus record of 180-8.
Djimon Gumbs is NSU’s highest ranked competitor in any event with a No. 9 seed because of a 193-3 unleashed at NSU’s Leon Johnson Invitational.
Hudson vastly improved in the second half of the season, ripping off a 186-6 at NSU’s Last Chance Meet to rank 27th.
Diamante Gumbs, who captured a pair of silvers and a bronze at SLC Outdoors, tossed 182-7 in NSU’s Last Chance Meet to rank 35th.
For Hudson, his event win at Stephen F. Austin provided the confidence to spur a better than 20-foot improvement from the opening meet to his personal best.
“My goal was to score points at conference first and foremost, and then go to regionals and hope to go to nationals,” said Hudson, the SLC Freshman of the Year. “That SFA meet was my first win in Division I, and so I realized that my issues were more mental than physical because I could do it practice.
“Competing against these two guys in practice is motivating because it’s something to shoot for. I know that if I can beat those guys, I can go against some of the best in the nation. I owe a lot to the twins and to (Heimerman).”
Both of the Gumbs will throw the shot after Diamante qualified in the final meet of the season with a 58-1 (ranks 43rd).
Djimon set his mark early as his 61-11 (ranks 18th) in mid-March was one of three meets in which he bested 60 feet.
“We did a good job bringing in quality athletes, and all three of these guys are special and make me look good,” Heimerman joked. “I’m fortunate to work with them, and they get all the credit.
“They work hard every day and are students of their craft. They continuously want to get better, studying their film and looking at film of other people. They do a good job of taking care of their bodies, and the future is really bright.”
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services