NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships begin today

The Baylor basketball team isn’t the only Baylor team competing in a championship game this week.

Baylor track and field is sending 11 athletes to Nampa, Idaho, this weekend for the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships; and they have confidence to carry them through.

“We’re very pleased with the group we’ve got,” head coach Todd Harbour said.

Baylor has several returning national competitors – senior Jessica Ubanyionwu in the triple jump, junior Skylar White in the shot put, sophomore Erin Atkinson in the weight throw, and sophomore Tiffani McReynolds in the hurdles, senior Zwede Hewitt in the relay, and junior Drew Seale in the relay.

“We’re very well represented on the ladies’ side with some women who have been there before and done, and competed at a high level,” Harbour said.

At the last chance qualifier in Arkansas, Ubanyionwu made the most of her opportunity, moving up to 5th in the NCAA with a jump of 43 feet, 2.25 inches. Before the qualifier, she was ranked 24th.

“It was more of a relief,” Ubanyionwu said. “I don’t know how I would have felt knowing I went to nationals my sophomore year, I went my junior year, but my senior year, when it matters, not going to nationals just didn’t seem like it would be an option.”

Ubanyionwu said she is excited to see field events so strongly represented this year. In the past, Baylor has been known more for track than field. Ubanyionwu said she has confidence in her field teammates and high expectations.

White, who currently holds the Baylor school record in shot put with a throw of 56-10, is headed to the championship ranked sixth. Throughout the indoor season, she brought home wins from three different meets.

Baylor’s other powerful thrower, Atkinson, is entering the weekend ranked 13th in the weight throw. She, too, holds the school record in her event with a throw of 68-4.5. This season, Atkinson won the weight throw competition in four meets.

After winning her second consecutive Big 12 Indoor Championship, McReynolds, the 2011 NCAA runner-up in the 60-meter hurdles, is hoping to claim the title this year. She is currently ranked 9th in the event.

OgunMokun, who also participated in last chance qualifiers at Notre Dame, moved from 45th to 16th in the 800-meter run. At the qualifier, she ran a school-record 2:05.30.

“She’s been ready. She’s just needed the confidence to run that fast,” Harbour said about OgunMokun’s performance at Notre Dame.

The two individual male performers, freshman Patrick Shoenball and junior Everett Walker are also looking to bring home wins.

Schoenball, who is a native of Germany, has been forced to adjust to American life, and track, quickly; but he has already made an impact. He will enter the NCAA Championship ranked 13th in the 800 meters.

Walker, a junior college transfer, is finally getting his speed back after suffering an injury early in the season.

“He’s ready,” Harbour said. “He got off to a slow start with the knee – he had surgery this fall – so it just took him a little while to get his wheels under him and get his confidence.”

The men’s 4×400 relay team, consisting of junior Justin Allen and sophomore Blake Heriot, along with Seale and Hewitt, was ranked in the top five in the nation for most of the season. Unfortunately, they were met with heavy competition at the last chance qualifier and were pushed down to 10th.

Harbour said he is confident in his relay team, along with all his competing athletes, and believes they have a good opportunity to take the win.

“You get to this meet, you have a chance to win it,” Harbour said.

The Baylor Bears will start field competition today at 4 p.m., and the last of the running events will begin at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday.