Instead of heading from the Conference USA Championships to the NCAA Championships, the USF track and field teams will adjust the newly formed regional competition into their season.
Seventeen Bulls, a team comprised of 12 females and five males, will travel to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
The competition, held May 30-31 for the NCAA East Regional, gives USF athletes one last chance to earn a spot in the NCAA Championships.
“We’re pretty excited that we have such a large group (competing),” USF coach Greg Thiel said.
In previous years, USF athletes qualified for the NCAAChampionships based on his or her top performance. Then the top 27 performers in each event were invited to compete at nationals.
However, unlike previously, this year’s regional competition gives an automatic berth to the top five athletes in each event. There are four regional competitions with 20 spots in each event.
To fill the remaining spots, the qualifying system reverts back to the previous year’s, when the final seven spots are determined by descending order lists posted on ncaasports.com. That means the top seven athletes in each event who didn’t earn an automatic berth, will earn an at-large bid to nationals based on their top performance of the season.
“It’s a new format, so it will be kind of interesting and fun to see how it goes,” Thiel said.
Of the 17 Bulls going to the regional competition, six have the potential to earn a spot at nationals, according to the lists on ncaasports.com.
On the men’s side, junior high jumper Jimmy Baxter is virtually a lock to advance, ranking first in the region and third nationally.
C-USA Male Freshman of the Year Jonathon Miller also has a chance. Miller ranks seventh in the region and 42nd nationally in the pole vault.
Though the women have more athletes in contention, they are returning from a lengthy conference meet, at which they earned the first C-USA outdoor track and field championship in school history.
“The conference meet was such an emotional roller coaster, it takes a lot out of you,” Thiel said. “It could be good (for us), or it could be bad, but it just seems like forever (from now until then.”
C-USA Female Athlete of the Year Dayana Octavien leads the way for the Bulls with a chance to secure a berth in two events. Octavien ranks in the top 25 nationally in both the discus (23rd) and the hammer throw (12th), but for the region she sits in the top seven for both events.
Chandra Brewer has the best opportunity, statistically, ranking fifth in the region and 13th nationally in the shot put.
Also, Alexis McGaffagan and Amber Delpino each have outside shots at earning a berth at nationals.
McGaffagan ranks eighth in the region and 36th nationally in the high jump, while Delpino ranks eighth in the region and 23rd nationally in the 400-meter high hurdles.
The Bulls could ultimately triple the number of USF athletes in last year’s national competition with some good performances. In 2002, only two USF athletes advanced to nationals.
“There is not a lot you have to say to this group,” Thiel said. “They’re very focused and very talented, and they know what to do.”