NCAA primer: What to know, who to follow for this week's national meet


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May 03, 2023

NCAA primer: What to know, who to follow for this week's national meet

Baylor’s Chinecherem Prosper “Zaza” Nnamdi ranks fourth in the NCAA entering

Baylor's Chinecherem Prosper "Zaza" Nnamdi ranks fourth in the NCAA entering this week's national meet in Austin.

Dillon Bedell and the Baylor men's 4x400 relay have designs on becoming the first foursome in school history to run a sub-three-minute time.


This week, the biggest meet in college track and field springs back into the national consciousness.

It's time for nationals again.

Mike A. Myers Stadium at the University of Texas in Austin will serve as the host for the four-day NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Wednesday through Saturday. Baylor will again fill up plenty of seats on its charter bus, with 14 total entries in the women's and men's divisions.

"Before we left (for Sacramento) I thought maybe 13 would make it, so we got one over the number," Baylor head coach Michael Ford said. "Ben (Conacher) did an awesome job in the vault to get in, and everybody else pretty much fell into place."

It should make for a week packed with thrills. But we also recognize that perhaps college track isn't always on the forefront of your mind, so here's a helpful primer for fans, in order to know what to watch out for at nationals.

We’ll offer this primer in the classic, frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) style.

Indeed, more often than not, the University of Oregon hosts the NCAA meet in Eugene. Since 2010, Oregon's Hayward Field has served as the national host site for outdoor track and field nine times.

But Austin isn't exactly a stranger to this meet. It last hosted the NCAA meet in 2019 and was scheduled to host again in 2020, only to see the event wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will mark Austin's eighth time to host in the 102-year history of the meet. It also welcomed the top collegiate tracksters in 1957, ’74, ’80, ’85 and ’92 at Memorial Stadium (now DKR-Memorial) and in 2004 and 2019 at Mike A. Myers Stadium.

Myers Stadium is also home to UT's massive Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays and the UIL State Track and Field Championships, so it's well-equipped for large-scale track gatherings.

In order to qualify for nationals, athletes had to finish in the top 12 in their respective events at one of two "regional" meets, representing the East and West regions. For instance, Baylor's team competed at the NCAA West Prelims in Sacramento May 24-27.

In Austin, the men's and women's fields will be split up into separate days, with the men's events slated for Wednesday and Friday and the women on Thursday and Saturday. That wasn't always the case, but the NCAA adopted that setup in 2015 for ease of scheduling and to give each gender its own platform, as well as a rest day in between races.

The running events will hold semifinal heats on their first days of competition in order to determine the field for the finals on their second and final day of competition. In field events, there is no semifinal, just a final. Five field event finals will be held on the first day, with three more following on the second day.

While each individual national-qualifying athlete will compete for his or her own NCAA title, teams with a lot of national qualifiers will also rack up points toward the team title race. Oh, and in college track, relays count for just as many points as any other event, unlike the UIL state meet, where relays count as double points.

It's a great question. This week in Austin, the gun to start several events will fire later than 10 p.m. That's later than any typical meet, and later even than the NCAA meet usually goes, at least in terms of local time.

"Honestly I have no idea," Baylor's Ford said, when asked about the schedule.

Ford speculated that the NCAA set it up that way because of the heat in Texas, to give some relief to athletes from parts of the country not accustomed to such temperatures. It's especially tough on distance runners. But it’ll definitely make for some sleepy nights for the athletes and fans. For instance, the Baylor women's 4x400 relay team will participate in the latest scheduled start time of the entire meet on Thursday, when their event kicks off at 10:48 p.m.

Florida swept the men's and women's team titles at the 2022 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, while Texas finished second in both sets of standings.

Heck, let's call it an "international" title, because Chinecherem Prosper Nnamdi represents the Bears’ best hope. Nnamdi, who is nicknamed Zaza, is a sophomore from Nigeria who finished fifth at last year's NCAA meet as a freshman.

The javelin explodes from his right arm like a rocket.

"I think the big thing for Zaza is getting those first three (throws) in," Ford said. "The name of the game, really it is his final day, so just getting those first three in, because … it only takes one big (throw) to win. He's been training hard. He finished fifth last year, so the big thing is, hey, let's finish fifth or higher. And I think he's ready to do it."

Nnamdi owns the fourth-best throw nationally this season, going 262-5 at the Texas Relays, on the same infield in which he’ll compete on Wednesday. He’ll have to bring his best stuff in Austin, though, especially since he’ll be going up against the last two national champions in the event in Georgia senior Marc Minichello, who won the event last year, and LSU junior Tzuriel Pedigo, who took NCAA gold in 2021.

Then there's Auburn freshman Keyshawn Strachan, who owns a national-best toss of 276-6 from the Texas Relays.

Certainly not. Multiple other BU athletes could zip their way onto the medal stand and perhaps all the way to the top.

Another to watch closely is Zaza's Nigerian countryman Nathaniel Ezekiel in the men's 400-meter hurdles. Ezekiel, a sophomore, ranks fourth nationally entering the meet with a top time of 48.52, which he clocked May 12 at the Big 12 Championships.

He finished fourth at last year's NCAA meet as a freshman, and should have even more know-how under his belt going into his second appearance.

Ezekiel will also fill a leg on Baylor's 4x400 relay team, which isn't just chasing a national title but also a school record as it tries to become the first foursome from Quarter-Miler U to break three minutes. Earlier this season, Ezekiel, Kamden Jackson, Matthew Moorer and Dillon Bedell posted the fifth-fastest time in school history at 3:00.61. The BU record belongs to Reggie Witherspoon, LeJerald Betters, Kevin Mutai and Quentin Iglehart-Summers, who blazed to a 3:00.04 in 2007.

It will likely take every bit of that to win gold.

"I think they can break three," Ford said. "We’ve been talking about all year is to actually make the final. Last year we didn't make the final, the year before that we got DQ’ed in the final. So the last year that we were actually in the final and we scored was in ’19. … But we’ve been running well all year and we don't need to make any major changes. Hopefully on Wednesday we’ll advance to the final and then take care of business on Friday night."

If records are made to be broken, this Baylor team is like a walking rage room, breaking everything in sight.

Nnamdi already owns nine of the top 10 javelin throws in BU history, so he's certainly capable of putting his own record of 266-6 even farther out there. Ezekiel set the 400 hurdles record last year at 48.42, surpassing a 48.43 run by former NCAA champion Bayano Kamani in 2000.

The Baylor women's 4x100 relay squad melted away a 15-year-old school record when they clocked 43.21 at the NCAA West Prelims. That group consisted of Mariah Ayers, Imaobong Uko, Bria Bullard and Michaela Francois. The old record was 43.60.

Additionally, grad transfer Annamaria Kostarellis will get her chance to lower the school record in the 10,000 meters for a third time. She first bested the great Rachel Johnson's record at a meet at Stanford, and then shaved even more time off when she clocked in at 32:10.96 in Sacramento to punch her ticket to nationals.

"Honestly, it meant a lot," Kostarellis said. "I think never having run a 10K, you have no idea what you can do, just hopes and dreams. It's not really until you see it on paper that it becomes meaningful. For one, just getting to represent Baylor and getting a record while doing it meant a lot to me."

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When: Wednesday-Saturday

Where: Mike A. Myers Stadium, Austin


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A lifelong rider of the Houston sports bandwagon and a lifelong hater of vegetables, Brice Cherry has been named the Texas AP sportswriter of the year several times during his Trib career, which began in 1998. He has been sports editor since 2012.

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