Tara Quinn and Jimmy Baxter made the trip to Baton Rouge, La., this week to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship. This is the biggest event of the year, as the best in the country will be on hand to compete for a national championship. Quinn will compete in the 10,000 meters today, and Baxter will compete in the high jump on Saturday.
Both Quinn and Baxter have experience in the NCAA Championships from last year, and both have a legitimate shot at being national champs in their respective events this year.
Going into the meet Quinn posted the third finish in the nation with a time of 33:37.24 in the 10,000 meters. Last year, she finished 14th with a time of 36:10.72. The winning time for last year’s national champion was 33:59.96.
“I like her chances,” said coach Greg Thiel. “There is no dominant person this year. On any given day, if she is on and runs smart, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if she won it all.”
Thiel and Quinn agree that the key to winning will be running strategically smart.
“Last year, I went into the championship the underdog and went in just for the experience, to enjoy it and to have fun,” Quinn said. “This year, my goal is to go out there and put myself in with the leaders. I want to try to be in the lead pack.”
According to Thiel, it will be important for Quinn to stay within herself and run a well-paced race.
“Sometimes in the national championship, some people don’t keep their composure. They may go out too fast or too slow. Either one can be a recipe for disaster,” said Thiel. “It’s the person that can keep their composure and run their even splits, to be in position with a mile to go.”
Quinn last competed in the conference championships two weeks ago. She has had a couple of weeks to prepare for nationals. In the meantime, the coaching staff has focused her on speed work, specifically on running shorter distances.
“Most of my workouts have been less than 800 meters,” Quinn said. “Since I have been doing shorter, faster workouts, when I get there, the slower paced, long distance will seem easier. Also it is not as stressful doing shorter, faster stuff as opposed to the longer workouts.”
Baxter is currently ranked No. 2 in the high jump with a height of 7-feet, 4 1/2-inches. Last year, as a freshman, Baxter finished sixth and earned All-American honors with a height of 7-feet, 3-inches. The winner of last year’s event posted a mark of 7-feet, 6 1/2-inches.
“By going last year, I know what the scenery is going to be like and I know all the jumpers. It should be very interesting,” said Baxter. “I am little older, a little wiser and a little stronger now.” Thiel believes that strategy will play a big part in having a top performance.
“It’s an event of attrition,” said Thiel. “Coach Marsh and I have told Jimmy to try to make every height on the first attempt and block the competition out. Then he will be in a great position and not get caught up in what the other guy does.”
Baxter and Thiel agree that anyone who can clear 7-feet, 5-inches will have an excellent opportunity to win it all.
Baxter also has had a couple of weeks to rest and prepare for the big meet.
“They have been resting my legs. This is the first break that I’ve had since basketball season. Hopefully, my legs will be refreshed,” said Baxter. “They told me that there wasn’t much more I can do to get ready that I haven’t already done.”
There are increased expectations on Baxter this year after his outstanding performance last year.
“Last year, I wasn’t nervous at all. This year, I feel a little more pressure to repeat as an All-American,” said Baxter. “I’ve got a lot on the line this year. I really want to come in the top three. I had a pretty good season, so I don’t want it to end on a bad note. I am going in with the idea that I am not going to lose.”
James Tai covers track and field and can be reached at email@example.com