By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Freshman Nicodemus Naimadu’s victory and indoor school record in the 5,000-meter run Saturday highlighted a weekend full of new and better qualifying marks as the men’s and women’s track and field teams participated in the Tyson Foods Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., on Friday and Saturday.
In total, 24 athletes posted new or better qualifying marks. Naimadu’s, however, was the only school record in the bunch. The freshman also set a class record, defeated a field of top Division I distance runners, and posted the top time in the world this year with his time of 13:41.08.
Head coach Jon Murray said Naimadu’s performance came as a pleasant surprise.
“I didn’t expect for Nicodemus to go down that low,” Murray said. “I thought he’d run 14-flat or something.”
Junior Olha Kryv’yak led a group of Wildcat middle-distance runners to provisional and automatic qualifying times in the women’s mile Friday night. Kryv’yak placed fourth in the Women’s Col-lege race with an automatic qualifying time of 4:51.91. Trina Cox was sixth for ACU in 4:54.98, a provisional time, followed by junior Addeh Mwamba in seventh with a provisional time of 4:55.65.
The other highlight from Friday night was the men’s distance medley relay, in which ACU placed fourth with an exceptionally fast and automatic qualifying time of 9:40.55.
Aside from Naimadu’s blistering 5,000-meter run, the men’s and women’s pole vaulters were the story of the day on Saturday.
Sophomore Angie Aguilar won the unseeded division of the women’s pole vault with a personal best height of 12-8, followed by senior Val Gorter, who cleared the same height. In the championship division, senior Katie Eckley improved her provisional qualifying height with a vault of 12-2, good for 15th place overall.
“I’ve been waiting on this,” Aguilar said of her personal-best vault. “I knew it would happen; it was just a matter of time. Hopefully it’ll keep going up.”
Aguilar’s husband, Cory, placed fourth in the men’s placed fourth in the men’s competition with an indoor best and automatic qualifying vault of 16-10.
The women’s distance medley relay greatly improved its qualifying time, winning the event in 11:53.83.
Freshman Shauna-Kaye Thompson bettered her provisional time in the 200-meter dash with a time of 24.85. Teammate Jessica Hunt also improved her time Saturday, running 25.01.
Sophomore Brooklyn Hunt placed 35th in the unseeded division of the 400-meter dash, but her time of 56.67 was good enough to qualify her provisionally for the national meet. Freshman Denise Morgan also improved her provisional time, placing seventh in the 800 meters with a time of 2:12.5.
Angie Aguilar said she thinks this year’s women’s team looks as good as any she’s seen.
“I think we’re pretty strong,” Aguilar said. “This is one of the first years I feel like we have a lot of depth. It looks like everybody’s ready.”
Junior transfer Lucky Hadebe had a busy weekend, running the mile as the anchor leg in the distance medley relay Friday night, then winning the mile on Saturday with an automatic time of 4:05.56.
Senior Ben Washington placed fifth in the championship division of the triple jump, posting a season-best and improved qualifying jump of 51-5. Freshman Vladyslav Gorbenko won the unseeded division of the triple jump with a 51-5 jump, which puts ACU triple jumpers in the top three positions in the nation.
Sophomore Marvin Bien-Aime shot to second on the national performance list with his qualifying time in the 200-meter dash Saturday, finishing in 21.37. Wildcat Delt Cockrell also ran a good qualifying time of 21.79.
Senior Marvin Essor was 12th in the 400-meter dash, but posted a fast provisional time of 47.87 to move to second on the Division II performance list. Teammate Ricardo Johnson also improved his qualifying time with a 48.66 performance Saturday.
The weekend’s new qualifiers bring the total number of automatic or provisional qualifiers to 32-17 men and 15 women. Murray called the Arkansas meet “one of the best Arkansas meets he’s seen” and said he attributes the weekend’s successes to hard work during practice.
“They’ve all had great workouts,” he said. “They’ve been doing the work – it just paid off.”
Cory Aguilar said he thinks the men’s team is in a great position at this point in the season.
“Coming out of the Arkan-sas meet with great performances, that gives us great confidence,” Aguilar said.
On Saturday, Murray will take a handful of athletes to the Sooner Indoor Classic, where he said he hopes the rest of the Wildcat contenders will qualify for nationals. If they need another meet to do so, some athletes might compete in the Clemson Classic on Feb. 26.
“Hopefully, everyone does well this weekend, and we don’t have to go [to Clemson],” Murray said. “Then we can train that weekend and get ready for nationals.”