Written by Jessie Vanderson
The contenders have been separated from the pretenders. Only the best of the best will be in action at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field National Championship this week and weekend at storied Hayward Stadium on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene. The prestigious meet, the premier annual collegiate competition in the country, will start Wednesday (June 8) and conclude Saturday night (June II).
The top 12 finishers in each event from their respective East and West Prelims two weeks ago advanced to national championships, which will start with action in the semifinals after the conclusion of two rounds of competition at the Prelims. The West Prelims were held at the University of Kansas in Lawrence while the East Prelims were conducted at the University of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Fla.
The University of Oregon is the defending team champs in both the women’s and the men’s divisions. Head coach Robert Johnson’s Ducks are the two-time defending national champs in the men’s competition. Last year, they finished the meet with 85 points. The Ducks women’s team held off a strong University of Kentucky team while capturing the national championship with 59 points. In the current national rankings, the Ducks women’s team are sitting at the No. 3 spot behind No. 1 ranked Kentucky. The University of Arkansas enters the meet ranked No.2. Oregon’s men are ranked No. 4 behind Florida, Louisiana State and No. 1 ranked Texas A&M.
Several former Arizona high school standouts will be in action at the national championships. Former Phoenix Brophy High great Devon Allen and former Tempe Mountain Pointe standout Travonn White will see action in the semis as members of Oregon’s mens 4×100 relay, which raced to eighth-place (39.7) at the West Prelims. Allen will also attempt to advance to the Saturday’s championship finals in the 110-meter high hurdles and the 200 meters. Allen finished first at the prelims in the 110s (13.3) and seventh in the 200 (20.6). White finished a disappointing 25th in the men’s long jump at the prelims and did not advance to the national championships in the event where he won an Arizona Division I State Championship four years ago.
Arizona State University’s outstanding men’s 4×100 relay unit is a good bet to advance to the championship finals. A Sun Devils’ quartet of Benjamin Trotter, Isiah Underwood, Brandon Hasson and Reggie Lewis finished second (39.3) to the University of Houston (39.1) at the West Prelims. Trotter was a member of a quartet that also included Travonn White at Mountain Pointe that set the Arizona boy’s state record in the 4×100 relay when both he and White were seniors. Trotter spent two years at Central Arizona College before transferring to ASU. Underwood is a product of Glendale’s Ironwood High School who spent two years at Glendale Community College before becoming a Sun Devil. Lewis, a senior transfer from Clemson University who won the PAC-12 championship in the 100-meters last month, finished sixth in the 200 (20.6) at the prelims.
Former Chandler Hamilton football and track standout Just’N Thymes advanced to the championships as a member of the University of Southern California men’s 4×100 relay unit. The Trojans raced to fourth at the prelims. Men from Troy will be out the services of star sprinter Andre DeGrasse, who is redshirting this season while preparing to compete for the Canadian Olympic team. DeGrasse won the men’s national titles in the 100 and 200 last year.
Former Oro Valley Canyon del Oro great Jaide Stepter will be in action for Southern California at the national championships in both the 4×400 relay and the 400-meter hurdles. Stepter finished second (56.8) in the 400 hurdles behind two-time defending national champ, Shamira Little, of Texas A&M University (56.5). Stepter finished eighth in the championship finals last year. Southern California raced to third in the 4×400 relay at the prelims. Last year, Stepter was a member of a Trojans unit that teamed to take second in the 4×400 relay at the national championships.
Also headed to Eugene is former Tucson Salpointe Catholic sprint great Michaela Crunkleton-Wilson, and former Mountain Pointe stalwart Katelin Warren. Crunkleton-Wilson earned her trip to the ‘big dance’ as a member of Stanford University’s women’s 4×400 relay, which finished seventh (3:31.1) at the West Prelims. Warren, who started the season as an alternate, punched her ticket to Eugene as member of the University of Arizona’s 4×400 relay, which finished ninth (3:32.5) at the West Prelims. Arizona junior Sage Watson anchored that unit. The sophomore transfer from Florida State University raced to fourth-place in the 400 hurdles at the national championships last year.
An Arizona men’s unit Bryce Houston, Michael Demby, Colins Kibet and anchor Miles Parrish teamed to finish eighth at the prelims to advance to the semifinals.
Also former Phoenix Goldwater standout Kaysee Pilgrim, a NJCAA outdoor national champion at Tucson’s Pima College last year, advance to the national championships for UNLV after finishing seventh in the women’s high jump at the prelims.