15 NCAA Div. III individual championships
PELLA—Central College distance runners Austin O’Brien (senior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) and Eli Horton (junior, Runnells, Southeast Polk HS) are each slated to compete in one individual event before leading the top-five Dutch distance medley relay team in this weekend’s 2014 NCAA Division III indoor championships at Lincoln, Neb.
Hosted by Nebraska Wesleyan, competition begins Friday inside Devaney Sports Center at 11 a.m. with heptathlon and pentathlon events.
“We’re going to compete as hard as we can and let the results come as they happen,” coach Joe Dunham said.
O’Brien qualified for the mile run with the 18th-fastest time in the nation in 4:10.25 at the Wartburg Select Jan. 31. Due to runners competing in other events, O’Brien’s time is seeded 10th among the 15-man field and less than 10 seconds back of the top qualifying time. O’Brien also ran the 11th-fastest 5,000-meter run in the nation and the 18th-fastest 3,000-meters. Coby Horowitz of Bowdoin (Maine) owns the nation’s top mile mark in 4:00.41.
“I was confident that Austin would qualify in the mile,” Dunham said. “He’s a great runner and is very competitive. There’s not a lot of separation here and each runner is capable of winning. All bets are off when you compete in this atmosphere. It’s a great situation for Austin.”
Horton qualified in the 3,000-meter run in 8:16.17 at the Iowa Invitational Feb. 21. The Iowa Conference indoor track and field track events MVP’s time ranks 13th nationally and is less than 11 seconds behind the top qualifying time. Horton also ran the fourth-fastest 5,000-meters time in the nation at the league indoor meet Feb. 28 and ranks 15th nationally in the mile. John Crain of North Central (Ill.) ran the fastest 3,000 meters this season in 8:05.77.
“Eli has had an incredible season,” said Dunham. “His improvements have been pretty dramatic. He was on the national stage in cross country, but this is a different challenge and it’ll be fun to see how he responds. Eli qualified in a handful of events, but chose this one. Now he needs to go take care of business.”
Despite posting top qualifying times in multiple events, O’Brien and Horton will compete in only one individual event due to schedule conflicts with the distance medley relay.
“We feel really good about the distance medley relay,” said Dunham. “Both Austin and Eli wanted to run in the relay, which conflicts with other individual races. Each qualified in multiple events, so we had to make tough decisions. We wish they could run every race, but they can’t and they chose the relay.”
The duo leads the fifth-fastest distance medley relay team into the national meet. O’Brien, LJ Lipscomb (junior, Johnston), Drew Jackson (junior, Johnston) and Horton make up the four-leg relay—1,200-meters, 400-meters, 800-meters and 1,600-meters—which is seeded fourth in the 12-team field. The foursome ran its No. 5-ranked and fourth-seeded time of 9:50.22 during its qualifying trip to Massachusetts Feb. 15, breaking the eight-year-old school record. Spencer Hammack (sophomore, Ottumwa) is an option for the 400-meter leg as well.
Three of the top-five times this season were posted at the Tufts (Mass.) Cupid Challenge where the Dutch broke the school record. Wis.-Oshkosh’s Halloran, Wilch, DeNure and Ramos are the top-seeded relay with a qualifying time of 9:47.47.
“We want to go for the win in the distance medley relay and that’s what we’re going to do,” Dunham said. “We’ll be in the race and it’ll come down to the end and who finishes the strongest. It’ll be an exciting atmosphere and we’re going to give it our best. There are a lot of good teams competing, so it’ll be a challenge, but we’ve got as good of shot as any.”
The men’s mile prelims are scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. with the distance medley relay finals to follow at 6:10 p.m. Saturday’s mile final is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. with the 3,000-meter run to follow at 4:25 p.m.