MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The 2011 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships will be held this weekend in College Station, Texas. And once again, the West Virginia University track and field team will have multiple athletes competed against the nation’s best.
For senior Chelsea Carrier, this marks her third invitation to the national meet where she will compete in both the pentathlon and 60-meter hurdles - events in which she took home two BIG EAST titles a little less than a month ago.
An event that tests athleticism across five different areas, the pentathlon combines scores from the 60-meter hurdles, the high jump, the long jump, the shot put and the 800-meter run.
It’s a lot to think about, but Carrier knows to take things one at a time. That’s why she’s currently ranked No. 5 in the nation.
“If I just go in and do what I need to do in each event I can collect a few hundred more points,” Carrier said earlier this week. “I want to perform a little faster in the hurdles and the 800 meters, and do better at shot put and long jump. Hopefully I can accomplish what I want to get done.”
Pentathlon competition begins for the Buckhannon, W. Va. resident at 10 a.m. on Friday, opening with the 60-meter hurdle portion. From there, the events will continue on through the afternoon, culminating in the preliminary round of the individual 60-meter hurdles, which take place at 4:30 p.m.
A former gymnast, Carrier attributes her time in the gym to her success at hurdles.
“I was a gymnast and hurdles came natural to me just like long jumping and high jumping did,” she explained. “I kind of have that gymnast mentality. It just comes natural and right now I’m just trying to work on my technique and improve in each event.
“I usually never hit a hurdle,” she continued. “Some people do. You just have to think of it as a sprint and not like you’re jumping over the hurdles. You try to attack the hurdles while not trying to jump so much because when you’re in the air that long the other girls are on the ground making up that time.”
Currently tied with Gabby Mayo (Texas A&M) for the No. 8 ranking in this event, Carrier posted a school record time of 8.15 at the BIG EAST Championships. But anything can happen in a race that is typically decided by hundredths of a second.
“Last year, I was going in tied for 17th in the nation in the hurdles,” commented Carrier. “I’m going up against great competitors and everyone is really fast. Hopefully I can run a clean race and PR.”
Fellow senior and West Virginia native Keri Bland qualified in the mile for this weekend’s meet after her performance at last weekend’s Columbia Last Chance Meet. Finishing with a time of 4:38.56, Bland is making a repeat appearance at indoor nationals.
It was a huge achievement for Bland to even be able to participate in the meet, having suffered injuries and other health-related setbacks.
Earlier in the year, the Fairview, W. Va. resident suffered from plantar fasciitis, a condition that causes irritation and swelling of the plantar fascia, the tendon on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes.
Having recovered from this, Bland then came down with a severe cold that once again prevented her from training. These health issues have passed now, however, and she’s more than ready to go.
“I am ready to run a race,” she said with a laugh. “I’m finally feeling good. I’m not sick anymore, planter’s gone, and I’m ready to go fitness wise. I’ve been on a good roll for the past five weeks or so. It’s my fifth year so I know what I need to do and what gets me fit.”
The ultimate goal is, of course, to win the race and take home a national title. But a finish in the top eight guarantees a spot on the All-America team. Hovering just outside of the top 10 in rankings at No. 11, both of these goals remain achievable for Bland, but they also present a great challenge.
In fact, it’s really amazing that Bland recovered in enough time to be in the position she’s in today. To put things in perspective, West Virginia University had a runner win the national mile in 1999 (Kate Vermeulen) finishing with a time of 4:39. This year, running at that pace wouldn’t even qualify an athlete for the meet.
“I think it’s going to take around a 4:30 or better to get to the finals, and then around a 4:30 or better in the finals to be top eight or so,” she detailed. “I’ve run around 4:34 in the past, and I have a number like that in my head. I’m ready to get back to where I was.”
Among the athletes Bland will be competing against is Jordan Hasay, a sophomore out of Oregon who ranks No. 2 in the nation with a time of 4:34.75 earned at the University of Washington’s Husky Classic on Feb. 11.
“I’ve raced against most of them before,” Bland said. “It’s the same girls from past years. Hasay is probably the biggest name I’m racing against. I know them and I’ve seen them before.”
The preliminary round of the mile will take place on Friday at 4 p.m.
The final Mountaineer competing this weekend is Jessica O’Connell, who will represent West Virginia in the 3,000-meter race. After earning her first BIG EAST title in this year’s 3,000-meter race, she, too, earned a qualifying bid last weekend by posting a personal-best 9:14.12 finish.
One of the last events of the weekend, the 3,000 meters is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. on Saturday.
The 3,000 presents a tactical challenge that makes it an interesting event.
“You need to make sure you always stick with the leaders and run a good steady pace,” O’Connell detailed. “You can’t go out too hard because it’s a long race and you’ll pay for it if you do. At the same time, you do need to have a good kick at the end. I like it because it’s a mix of everything, both fast and slow.”
O’Connell will be going up against Stony Brook’s Lucy Van Dalen, who holds the No. 1 ranking in this event with a time of 8:56.77. Hasay ranks at No. 4, while Sheila Reid (Villanova) and Jackie Areson (Tennessee) are second and third, respectively.
“Everybody is so close right now within the rankings,” O’Connell said. “Everyone is within a couple of seconds so anyone could win. There are more people running close to each other than normal. I guess everyone is just rising to the competition.”
The Calgary, Alberta, Canada resident has had her own share of injuries as well this season. Having already planned to redshirt the cross country season, the matter was taken out of her hands when she was hit by a car, resulting in a dislocated shoulder.
“I had to wear this brace that held my arm from my body at a 90-degree angle for two weeks,” she explained. “I couldn’t take it off when I slept and I couldn’t fit into desks at school. It was really embarrassing, and hard to train.”
Unable to train traditionally, O’Connell took to the bike. She attended classes in the morning and got back on the bike in the training room in the evening.
Now in the midst of her second trip to nationals, she understands what to expect from the atmosphere and what it will take to be in good position at the end of the race.
“Tactical races are sometimes slower because you’re playing games and waiting to kick. Kicking is not my huge strength, but I don’t like to lead either. I just like to be in the pack and in contact with the leaders and be ready to cover any moves that they make,” she said.
With the amount of hard work and effort these three athletes have put in, and the obstacles that have been overcome, there is no doubt that each will represent West Virginia University well this weekend.
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