By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Three freshman student-athletes from Tennessee Tech University have qualified for the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Track & Field Preliminary Championships, to be held this weekend at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.
Na'Asha Robinson and D'Airrien Jackson will represent the TTU women's team, and Gilbert Boit is the Golden Eagle men's entry in the met, May 26-28. The top 12 finishes runners in each event during the preliminary rounds will advance to the NCAA Championships next month in Eugene, Ore. The NCAA hosts two preliminary events, one in Jacksonville for the East Region and the other in Lawrence, Kan., for the west.
"We are very excited about this weekend," said Tech track coach Wayne Angel. "This is exactly what these athletes have been dreaming about all year, a chance to represent Tennessee Tech at the NCAA Championships. Thursday will be the first step toward realizing their dreams."
Robinson, from Huntsville, Ala., and Jackson, from Santa Clara, Calif., run in the first round of the 400-meter dash on Thursday, with the starting gun scheduled for 6:20 p.m. CT. Boit, a newcomer from Eten, Kenya, runs about two hours later in the 10,000-meter semi-finals at 8:40 p.m. CT.
Boit only needs to finish in the top 12 to advance to the NCAA meet in Oregon, and give himself an opportunity to become the first distance All-American in Tech history. He qualified for the NCAA preliminaries by running that distance in 29:25.41 at the Raleigh Relays on March 25. His time was among the tops in the nation at that time, and currently is listed 61st nationally.
For Robinson and Jackson, each of whom has earned an Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year honor – Robinson during the indoor season and Jackson outdoors – the week offers two challenges, beginning with the first round Thursday. The top performers in the first round advance to the quarterfinals of the 400m on Friday, with the top 12 moving on to Eugene.
Jackson currently owns the 30th fastest time in the event nationally, posting a 52.64 at the Vanderbilt Black & Gold Invitational, also on March 25. Robinson's best of 53.19, which came at the OVC Championships on May 14, is listed as the 50th best time in the country.
Not only can Robinson and Jackson advance to the NCAA finals and earn a shot at All-America status, they also have the opportunity to make the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene.
Already, the speedy Tech pair has qualified for the USA Junior Championships in Clovis, Calif., in June, a meet that will determine who will be selected to represent the United State at the World Junior Championships in Poland later this summer.
"They (Robinson and Jackson) have to compete and race as if they were in Eugene already," Angel said. "We have been preparing for the NCAA Preliminary Championships since we began back in August.
"I am confident that Gilbert, Na'Asha and D'Airrien will represent Tennessee Tech and the Upper Cumberland with class and distinction."