EUGENE, Ore. – They aren’t likely to show up in the headlines at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships on Friday and Saturday.
Most are unknown outside of their own teams.
But by the end of the 2014 outdoor track and field season, the 33 junior-eligible athletes – age 19 and under – who are expected to compete at the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque, N.M., could be well on their way to making a name for themselves.
Three of those athletes – Oregon’s Sasha Wallace, Miami’s Artie Burns and Georgia’s Kendell Williams – have already set U.S. junior indoor records this season.
Only time will tell who rises to the top by the conclusion of the IAAF World Junior Championships, which makes its first appearance on U.S. soil at Hayward Field this summer.
The six-day meet will be held July 22-27.
While most Division I coaches don’t rely on freshmen, the NCAA Indoor Championships will provide an early glimpse of the emerging talent that will dot future rosters on world stages.
The impact of these young athletes will probably be most significant on the women’s side.
Three of the 16 qualifiers for the 200 meters at this year’s NCAA Indoor meet are junior athletes, and they rank among the top eight collegiate performers this year: Arkansas’ Regine Williams (23.06, 4th), Tennessee’s Felecia Majors (23.21, 7th) and Miami’s Shakima Wimbley (23.22, 8th).
Similarly, Texas A&M’s Shamier Little (51.86, 4th), Texas’ Kendall Baisden (52.59, 11th) and Majors (52.65, 13th) all qualified for the 400.
Baisden usually runs the lead-off leg for the Longhorns’ top-ranked 4×400 relay team, while Oregon freshman Christian Brennan steps in for the graduated English Gardner in that event.
The Duck women clinched their fourth straight NCAA indoor championship by winning the 4×400 relay in the first heat last season, and UO coach Robert Johnson expects another tight battle this year.
Texas (3:30.12), Florida (3:30.16), Oregon (3:30.52) and Texas A&M (3:31.07) have all run 3:31 or better this season.
UO seniors Phyllis Francis, Laura Roesler and Chizobo Okodogbe filled out the other three legs for the Ducks last year, and will do so again at the meet in Albuquerque.
“I think the 4×400 is going to be an absolute dogfight,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of good teams. If the meet comes down to that event, I think we’ll rise up and get those points necessary. Our senior girls can rally the cause … to seal the deal.”
Other top-ranked World Junior-eligible athletes on the women’s side are Georgia’s Kendell Williams (pentathlon, 2nd); Auburn’s Marshay Ryan (triple jump, 6th); Georgetown’s Sabrina Southerland (800, 7th) and Oregon’s Wallace (60 hurdles, 7th).
On the men’s side, the number of junior-eligible athletes (age 19 and under), who qualified for the NCAA Indoor meet is much smaller, but there are still some names to keep an eye on.
They include Mississippi’s Jalen Miller and Baylor’s Trayvon Bromell in the 60 meters; Florida’s Andres Arroyo in the 800; Colorado’s Ben Saarel in the 3,000; Miami’s Burns in the 60 hurdles, and eight others ticketed for duty in the 4×400 or distance medley relays.
Florida comes into the meet as the top-ranked squad on both the men’s and women’s sides, according to the latest USTFCCCA computer rankings.
The Gator men finished second behind Oregon in 2009, won three consecutive titles from 2010-12, and earned runner-up honors to Arkansas last year. The Razorbacks scored 74 points, the highest-point total at the NCAA Indoor Championships since 1994.
Not surprisingly, Florida coach Mike Holloway doesn’t pay much attention to rankings.
“For me and our program,” he said. “the only ranking we’re concerned about is what’s happened when we leave this building (Albuquerque Convention Center) after the meet is over.”
Holloway expects strong challenges from several men’s team, including Arkansas, Oregon, Arizona, Wisconsin and Texas A&M.
The Gator women moved up to No. 1 on the strength of their victory at the SEC championships.
“The biggest thing for us on the women’s side is that we’ve patiently built a good team,” Holloway said. “Our last four recruiting classes have been very good. In the past, we’ve had a very youthful and inexperienced group, but these girls have been here before and they know what to expect.”
There will be several other teams looking to end Oregon’s four-year reign as NCAA indoor champions. They include Texas A&M, Texas, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida State.