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MAC Tracksters at the NCAA Championships

Twelve Mid-American Conference athletes have qualified to this weekend's NCAA Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships. Several have shots at All-American status, and Akron pole vaulter Shawn Barber is among the favorites to win in his event. Here's who to watch and how.

Twelve athletes from the Mid-American Conference are slated to compete at this weekend’s NCAA Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track & Field Championships.

MAC schools represented are Akron, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan and Kent State. Several of the MAC’s qualifiers could earn All-American status, and one has a shot at becoming an NCAA Champion.

The Basics

What: The NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships
Who: Division I athletes and relay teams from across the country (click for qualifiers) – MAC athletes are profiled below
When: Friday and Saturday (click for a full schedule)
Where: The Randal Tyson Track Center on the campus of the University of Arkansas

Info: Everything you ever wanted to know is right here

How to watch

TV coverage is on a tape-delayed basis on ESPNU, at 7:00pm on March 17. Live webcasts will be available at Arkansas’ Razorvision (daytime) and ESPN3 (primetime).

As you might expect, the MAC’s qualifiers are not in the glamour running events that get the most attention, but rather they mostly compete in the field events (and the most ignored ones at that). As with most other sports, our top athletes fly under the radar. So don’t figure to see many of our athletes on ESPNU’s TV coverage.

If you are following a particular athlete (or athletes), keep a browser window open with the live results page. The timing company hired for this meet, Flash Results, is the best in the world at what they do and they’ve made it easy to follow the changing fortunes of each field event.

Who is going

In order of when they compete, here are the MAC’s qualifiers.

Alex McCune, Akron
Competes on Friday (beginning at 11am ET) and Saturday (beginning at noon)
The heptathlon is the truncated indoor version of the decathlon. The first day consists of the 60 meters, long jump, shot put and high jump, and the second day has the 60 meter hurdles, pole vault and 1000 meters. Athletes score points based on their times, heights and distances (not their order of finish).

McCune, who broke Akron’s school record at the MAC Championships with 5,607 points, is ranked 15th of the 16 qualifiers and is just looking to improve. His best event is the pole vault, held second-to-last of the seven events.

Alexis Cooks, Akron
Brittany Funk, Akron
Shant'e White, Buffalo
20 lb Weight Throw
Compete on Friday at 1:30pm ET
The weight throw is the indoor version of the hammer throw, and the MAC is a powerhouse in both this event and its outdoor cousin. Three of the sixteen qualifiers all come from one conference, a kind of dominance generally associated in other events with the SEC, Pac-12 or Big Ten. The MAC’s last NCAA track champion was Akron’s Stevi Large, who won the women’s weight throw in 2009.

The format of the competition will be two flights of eight competitors. Each athlete gets three throws, and then the top nine throwers get three more throws. Only the single best throw counts for each competitor.

White won the MAC Championships two weeks ago with a throw of 69’ 8” (21.23 meters), which was a lifetime best by some two feet. Funk was third at the MAC but has been the most consistent of the MAC’s trio this season, and she launched a huge throw of 70’ 10¾” last week at a “last chance” qualifying meet at Virginia Tech. Any and all of these three have what it takes to earn All-American status by finishing in the top eight, but none can challenge for the win—Indiana State’s Felisha Johnson is the overwhelming favorite.

Dior Delophont
High Jump
Competes on Friday at 4:15pm ET
Delophont is a freshman who took fifth in the high jump at last year’s World Junior (U20) Championships, competing for her native France. She is ranked 11th of the sixteen qualifiers, but has a very real chance to finish in the top eight and earn All-American status. The high jump is a bit of an unpredictable event, so almost anything could happen. The strong favorite to win is Arizona’s Brigetta Barrett, who won a silver medal at last year’s Olympic Games and is riding a 21-meet win streak in collegiate competition.

Jonathan Jones, Buffalo
Shot Put
Competes on Friday at 4:15pm ET
Jones sat out last year after transferring from D-III Buffalo State, where he didn’t do much to make anyone pay attention. His switch has paid off in a big way, as he has improved by more than twelve feet. He is ranked eighth and his sharp improvement curve suggests that he could finish higher than that. Winning seems unlikely—Arizona State’s Jordan Clarke has won the last three NCAA titles in this event—but anything else is on the table. As with the weight throw, there will be two flights of competition and then a final, with each thrower’s best distance of the day to count.

Ann Marie Duffus, Kent State
Long Jump
Competes on Friday at 6:30pm ET
Duffus was just third at the MAC Championships and nowhere near qualifying to the NCAAs until last week, and the very last jump of the competition (and her entire indoor season), when she busted a big one. Like the weight throw and shot put, there will be two flights and a final with the best single distance to count.

Shawn Barber, Akron
Joe Wesley, Akron
Pole Vault
Compete on Friday at 6:30pm ET
Barber has a very real chance to win this event, and he’s just a freshman. He’s no ordinary freshman, though; he broke the national high school record last year and is closing in on the Canadian indoor record. But he’s going to have to be on the top of his game, and his last few meets have been a little rough. His main competition is likely to come from Oral Roberts’ Jack Whitt (the defending NCAA outdoor champion), Arkansas’ Andrew Irwin (the defending NCAA indoor champion), and UCLA’s Michael Woepse.

A primer on pole vault rules: athletes may pass at any time, and are out after three consecutive misses (not always at the same height due to passes). In the results, an “o” means a make and “x” means a miss. The tiebreaker is fewest misses at the final height cleared, and it’s often crucial.

Melinda Sawnor, Kent State
800 meters
Competes on Friday at 8:15pm ET
Sawnor was only third at the MAC Championships two weeks ago, but ran a very fast time (2:05.95) last week to edge in to the national meet as the 14th of the sixteen qualifiers. There will be two semifinal heats on Friday to determine Saturday’s finalists, with the first three in each heat qualifying plus the next two fastest runners overall. It looks like a steep uphill battle for Sawnor to make it to the finals, but weird things happen in the 800 meters (see: Wottle, Dave, Bowling Green).

Gabriel Genovesi, Akron
800 meters
Competes on Friday at 8:25pm ET
Genovesi comes in ranked 12th out of the 16 qualifiers, but has a good chance at making the finals (the qualifying procedure is the same as with the women above). Doing so would guarantee a top-eight finish and All-American status. He tends to take the pace out fast; the question is how will he hold up when the pack comes breathing down his neck?

Alysha Newman, Eastern Michigan
Pole Vault
Competes on Saturday at 6:30pm ET
Newman was the last of the sixteen qualifiers, but the bottom half of the field is so tightly bunched that a good day for her could put her in the top eight. Her qualifier was her winning height at the MAC Championships, 13’ 10½” (4.23 meters), which established a new Canadian junior (U20) indoor record. Strangely enough, the woman whose record she broke, Ariane Beaumont-Courteau, competes for Akron and finished second to Newman at the MAC.

Dior Delophont
Triple Jump
Competes on Saturday at 7:00pm ET
Delophont, the MAC’s indoor athlete of the year, made it here in two events. Ranked tenth, she has a decent shot at finishing in the top eight and getting an All-American certificate.