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Kansas State getting ready for NCAA track, but how does that work, exactly?

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A primer on NCAA qualification for the novice track observer

Really, there’s a method to this madness.
Really, there’s a method to this madness.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

So you’re excited because K-State won the Big 12 women’s outdoor track and field championship. And you know the next step is the NCAA championships, where we’re all hoping that maybe, somehow, K-State will finally win its first NCAA team championship ever.

But you’re also probably completely confused as to how this works. Don’t panic; we’re here to help.

Preliminary Qualification

The first thing you need to understand is that track and field isn’t like basketball or volleyball or baseball or even golf. The whole team doesn’t get to go to the NCAAs just because they won the Big 12.

Right now, the only K-State athlete qualified for the NCAA championships is Nina Schultz in the heptathlon. That is because the heptathlon and decathlon are the only events which are not held at the preliminary qualifications; the qualified athletes for those events are determined based on the best scores posted during the regular season, and the top 24 qualify without regard to region.

Everyone else has to go to Austin this weekend for the West Region preliminaries, and they have to have qualified to get there during the regular season. The East Region preliminaries will be in Lexington, Ky.

How’s that work? Each competitor’s personal best result is compiled and ranked. The 48 best personal best results in each region qualify for the preliminary rounds. So any K-State athlete in the top 48 in their event in the West gets to go to Austin. For relays, it’s the top 24 teams.

So that means the following women will represent K-State in Austin:

  • A’Keyla Mitchell (18th, 200m)
  • Morgan Wedekind (19th, 3000m steeplechase)
  • Kayla Doll (30th, 3000m steeplechase)
  • Ariel Okorie (42nd, 100m hurdles and 25th, long jump)
  • Ranae McKenzie (11th, 400m hurdles)
  • 4x100m relay team (17th)
  • 4x400m relay team (16th)
  • Rhizlane Siba (25th, high jump)
  • Shanae McKenzie (41st, high jump)
  • Wurrie Njadoe (3rd, long jump)
  • Zanri Van der Merwe (23rd, long jump)
  • Claudette Allen (43rd, long jump)
  • Shardia Lawrence (2nd, triple jump)
  • Konstantina Romaiou (12th, triple jump)
  • Jess St. John (18th, shot put)
  • Shadae Lawrence (1st, discus)
  • Janee' Kassanavoid (3rd, hammer throw)
  • Helene Ingvaldsen (11th, hammer throw)
  • Ally Zerbe (15th, javelin)
  • Haley Pitko (26th, javelin)

And for the men:

  • Terrell Smith (11th, 200m)
  • Kain Ellis (35th, 800m)
  • Christoff Bryan (11th, high jump)
  • Miles Bearden (23rd, high jump)
  • Zack Supple (41st, pole vault)
  • Javier Lowe (23rd, triple jump)
  • Brett Neelly (14th, shot put)
  • Mitch Dixon (14th, hammer throw)
  • Kyle Smith (15th, hammer throw)
  • Brady Grunder (16th, hammer throw)

National Qualification

After this weekend’s preliminaries, the top 12 individuals in each event at each site, as well as the top 12 relay teams in each relay at each site, advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. It doesn’t matter what you did in the regular season; the preliminaries are, in effect, heats.

That means that if current rankings were to hold through the preliminaries, the following athletes would advance to Eugene:

  • Ranae McKenzie (11th, 400m hurdles)
  • Wurrie Njadoe (3rd, long jump)
  • Shardia Lawrence (2nd, triple jump)
  • Konstantina Romaiou (12th, triple jump)
  • Shadae Lawrence (1st, discus)
  • Janee' Kassanavoid (3rd, hammer throw)
  • Helene Ingvaldsen (11th, hammer throw)
  • Terrell Smith (11th, 200m)
  • Christoff Bryan (11th, high jump)

The Championships

In Eugene, the field events will proceed as they normally do, with the top eight participants advancing to finals after three rounds of attempts. The track events, except for the distance events, will be contested in heats (3 flights of 8), with the eight best times moving on to the finals.

The championships are scored just like the Big 12 championships: 10 points for first, 8 for second, 6 for third, 5 for fourth, and so on down to 1 for eighth. Ties split the combined points — so if two athletes tie for second, they each earn 7 points ((8+6)/2).

Now, since we’re combining East and West, let’s look at the national rankings of the ten Wildcats who we should reasonably project to reach Eugene:

  • Nina Schultz (4th, heptathlon)
  • Ranae McKenzie (28th, 400m hurdles)
  • Wurrie Njadoe (9th, long jump)
  • Shardia Lawrence (4th, triple jump)
  • Konstantina Romaiou (22nd, triple jump)
  • Shadae Lawrence (1st, discus)
  • Janee' Kassanavoid (4th, hammer throw)
  • Helene Ingvaldsen (27th, hammer throw)
  • Terrell Smith (21st, 200m)
  • Christoff Bryan (18th, high jump)

(Nina Schultz is top-20 in both long jump and high jump, but did not declare for those events in order to concentrate on the heptathlon.)

Prediction

Based on this, we’d expect only four Wildcats to reach event finals, and if their rankings correlated to their final placement, K-State’s men would not reach the scoreboard while the women would accumulate 25 points. Last year, the women had 29 points, tying Stanford for seventh place.

Of course, the team could do better than expected, or they could do worse. Maybe some Wildcats will unexpectedly advance to Eugene, although they wouldn’t be expected to make the top eight once there. Maybe Wurrie Njadoe can sneak up one spot and reach the long jump final. Maybe the three Wildcats currently ranked fourth nationally can improve their position. Even a one-place improvement by those three, plus an eighth-place finish by Njadoe, would boost K-State to 32 points, which would have edged LSU for 6th place last year.

Again, it’s the lack of sprinters that would appear to doom the Cats, especially since schools like Texas and Arkansas will have a boatload of top-ranked sprinters in the field to gobble up points. That’s a problem they probably can’t even solve in Austin, since K-State didn’t have very many qualify for the preliminaries. But anything can happen, and you can be assured that Cliff Rovelto will have the team ready for both meets.