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Southeast qualifiers head to regional with national hopes
Southeast Missouri State University track and field athletes have spent most of the season helping the program to solid team success, culminating in an Ohio Valley Conference outdoor women's title and a runner-up men's finish.
But today and Saturday, 11 team members in 16 events will focus on individual glory in the NCAA Mideast Regional at Ohio State University in Columbus.
The top five finishers in each event from the four regions across the nation qualify for the NCAA Championships June 11 to 14 in Sacramento, Calif. Six more qualifiers in each event will come from the top marks turned in nationally this season.
"Everybody is really looking forward to the meet," said senior Courtney Haman, who will compete in two events. "We're excited for the opportunity."
This is the first year for NCAA regionals, through which athletes from across the country advanced by reaching qualifying standards or winning conference titles. In the past, athletes qualified directly to the NCAA Championships, but meeting those standards was extremely difficult, particularly for midlevel programs like Southeast.
"We're really excited about the regional," Southeast coach Joey Haines said. "This meet has given a lot of athletes something to shoot for, and it's just like qualifying for regional competition in other sports.
"The NCAA finals standards were so tough, it almost took world-class marks to make it. Now our athletes have a chance to earn a spot in the NCAA finals in head-to-head competition, and that's the way it should be."
Southeast had one national qualifier last year in sophomore Heather Jenkins, a Central High School graduate who finished 15th in the discus as a freshman. Jenkins ranks 12th in the region in both the discus and shot put.
Fellow Central product Haman is ranked eighth in the region in the javelin and 14th in the high jump.
"Heather is just a big throw away from being one of the top throwers in the nation," Haines said. "Courtney is also just a big throw away from being near the top in the javelin."
Senior Shelton Scott is the lone Southeast athlete that, if there were no regionals, would be qualified for the NCAA finals and ranks 14th nationally in the long jump and 19th in the triple jump. Scott is ranked fifth regionally in the long jump.
Scott has a strong chance of making it to nationals regardless of his regional performance, but Haines said, "His goal is certainly to place in the top five and have a chance to win each event at the regional."
Other entries for Southeast's men are senior Brandon Myer and junior Jay Heddell in the shot put and discus; and junior Chad Sierman in the 3,000 steeplechase. Freshman pole-vaulter Jordan Willi qualified but will not compete because of an injury.
On the women's side, other Southeast entries are senior Laura VanHoevelaak (400 hurdles); senior Hannah Stuckenschneider (400); junior Lyndsey Stevenson (100 hurdles); redshirt freshman Brooke Woodruff (800); and the 1,600 relay team of VanHoevelaak, Stuckenschneider, Woodruff and sophomore LaQuita Andrews, who rank 12th in the region.
The 400 relay team qualified but will not run because of an injury to freshman Rose Fulton. Other members were Andrews, sophomore Meleisa Greene and freshman Natasha Fortenberry. Freshman pole-vaulter Michelle Jett also qualified but will not compete.
"It's going to be really tough for our athletes to finish in the top five, but everybody there has a chance," Haines said. "That's all you can ask for."
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