By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
The men’s and women’s track and field teams will play host to the Oliver Jackson Open Saturday at Elmer Gray Stadium. A few field events will begin at 9 a.m. and continue throughout the morning, and running events will begin at 1 p.m.
The meet also will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. to celebrate the recently finished renovations on Elmer Gray Stadium. Family members of the late Elmer J. Gray, the primary donors to the renovation project, will be present at the event, along with former track and field coach Oliver Jackson.
Nearly the entire men’s and women’s team will compete at the first of two ACU home meets in hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships in Walnut, Calif., May 27-29. Ten teams will join ACU Saturday, including Angelo State, South Plains College and Southwest Christian College.
Head coach Jon Murray said this meet proved to be crucial last season.
“Last year, I think part of our success is that we had such a great day at this meet,” he said. “It comes down to weather. The rest of the spring could be wet, windy, you just don’t know. So any time there’s good weather, you better take advantage of it.”
Murray said certain races will be especially competitive Saturday.
“The men’s 400 will be one of the top events,” Murray said. “There’s 40 people in it, but there’s some really good people from both of the junior colleges, so that’s going to be exciting.”
He said the most threatening competitor, however, may not even be competing in the meet.
“Our biggest enemy might be the weather, mainly the wind,” Murray said. “If it’s too windy, it doesn’t really matter how fast we run-on the straight-aways, it’s not going to be legal, and on the curves, it’s going to be hard to run fast.”
While most of the athletes compete on their home track, four will travel to Palo Alto, Calif., for the Stanford Invita-tional, one of the most competitive outdoor meets in the nation.
Junior Bernard Manirakiza will compete in the 1,500-meter run, two weeks after taking home individual indoor national titles in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs. The Burundi native will race some of the nation’s best middle-distance runners in an event Manirakiza won at the 2002 Stanford Invitational with a personal best time of 3:47.54.
Manirakiza said he will attempt to clock a fast enough time to qualify for the 2004 Burundi Olympic team. He said he will need to run close to or under 3 minutes, 40 seconds to make the team.
Murray said the talented Wildcat runner is in the right shape, not only to qualify for his country’s Olympic team, but to break the school record of 3:42.03 this season.
“It’s just a matter of whether or not we can get him to go out fast enough,” Murray said. “I think he’ll break 3:40.”
Teammate Martin O’Kello also will participate in the 1,500-meter run, an event in which he placed second at the Lone Star Confer-ence Champ-ionship.
Sophomore Olha Kryv’yak will compete in the women’s 1,500-meter run, in which she placed second at the 2002 Ukrainian national championships with a time of 4:24. Junior transfer Adeh Mwamba will look to be recognized as a top distance runner on the Division II level after dominating junior college track and field at South Plains College the last two years. Mwamba and her teammates will compete against athletes from top schools such as Oregon, Stanford, California, UCLA, USC and Arkansas.
Murray said he chose these particular four athletes for two reasons.
“Weather and competition,” he said. “That’s a great place for distance running, those are our top distance runners, so they’re going to get to go. I anticipate them all qualifying for nationals.”
At the McMurry Indian Relays last Friday, junior Katie Eckley added her name to the list of automatic qualifiers, setting a new Division II outdoor record in and winning the women’s pole vault. Her height of 13-2 1/2 tied the indoor record she set on Feb. 16 at the Tyson Foods Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. Eckley broke former teammate Meredith Garner’s outdoor record of 13-2, which she cleared at the 2002 LSC Championship.
Two men have already qualified provisionally as well. Sophomore pole-vaulter Cory Aguilar cleared 16-6 to win his event Saturday and post one of the top marks in the nation. Freshman Stephon Greenlee ran a strong provisional time of 52.99 in the 400-meter hurdles, winning the event by almost four seconds.
“It was just a good general opener for us,” Murray said. “For it being a really low-key meet that wasn’t even on our schedule, those are good results. I hope to see some more this weekend.”