TERRE HAUTE —
Five of the six Indiana State athletes in Eugene, Ore., already have had some memorable track and field careers for the Sycamores.
But they’ll go ahead and try to add to their list of accomplishments in the NCAA outdoor championships this weekend.
Dustin Betz has been a scorer and key piece of eight Missouri Valley Conference championship teams between track and cross country. He’ll compete today in the 3,000-meter steeplechase as the Sycamores’ second best in the event behind Jordan Fife.
“He’s finishing a great career, not only as an athlete but as a student,” ISU coach John McNichols said. “He won the President’s Award at athletic banquet, highest award given to an athlete.”
Brandon Pounds is a four-time MVC champion thrower who has placed as high as sixth in the NCAA championships, that result coming last year in the hammer throw. He’s among the contenders to win a title this week in the hammer throw as he holds the school record in that and the weight throw at ISU.
Pounds has overcome a debilitating wrist injury that forced him to give up his best event — the shot put — after his freshman year. He won an MVC title in the shot put as a freshman after coming in as the prep national champion in the event out of Indianapolis Lawrence North.
Coach John McNichols admires Pounds’ ability to adapt.
“He’s obviously been outstanding refocusing on other things,” McNichols said. “We hope for a little extra on his throws this weekend, but his typical throw should have him among the top competitors.”
Felisha Johnson is a two-time NCAA champion, winning the weight throw title in February with the 10th-best throw in the history of the world. The Indianapolis native was a first-team All-American for the first time outdoors in 2012 when she took fifth in shot put. She’ll compete in shot and hammer throw this week at Hayward Field, not the first time at that venue under this pressure.
“She knows what the shot put and hammer rings feel like and hopefully can go out with a big bang,” ISU women’s coach Angie Martin said. “She’s on a roll in the shot put coming in.”
Johnson will have to be as Oklahoma’s Tia Brooks won the indoor national title with a meet-record performance, making her the favorite. Johnson isn’t far behind though as the second seed in the event. She’ll be a dark horse to fight for All-American status in the hammer throw.
“You never know what she can do. Been in so many big competitions, doesn’t get as nervous,” Martin said.
Greggmar Swift of Barbados was a 2012 Olympian in the 110 hurdles, and he’s making a second straight NCAA Championship appearance after finishing as a second-team All-American in 10th place in 2012. Swift topped that when he was fourth in the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships.
“He just missed making it his freshman year, that was huge motivation, he’s been there ever since,” McNichols said.
Swift is seeded eighth in the event with his season-best time of 13.52.
But McNichols remembers the last time he was in Eugene with a men’s hurdler. The 2001 NCAA indoor champion, Aubrey Herring, was the favorite to win the outdoor title as well, but he crashed along with two other hurdlers in the finals.
“Now with Greggmar, there’s 10 hurdles and anything can happen,” McNichols said. “He’s ready to run fast. There’s 10 things in the way and the guys that do those most efficiently are going to be at the top of the podium.”
Nicole Hope, the 2013 and 2011 MVC women’s pole-vault champion, was a second-team All-American in the 2012 indoor season.
“From the preliminary round, she jumped just as high as about the top 10 girls,” Martin said. “I think that’s her main goal [All-American]. Last two pole-vault championships I ‘ve watched out, here Kylie won. Kylie motivated her and told [Hope] she’s got a chance. She’s ready and confident.”
The last Sycamore competing is freshman sprinter Katie Wise, who was a pleasant surprise to Martin. Wise is the 2011 IHSAA state champion in the 100 out of Indian Creek High School.
“It’s really exciting for her to be out here and see what great competition she gets to be in. I don’t think she realizes what level she’s at and that she’s gotten there so quickly. It’s an unbelievable accomplishment for a freshman,” Martin said.
• McNichols, Martin honored — McNichols and Martin were honored as the Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year for the 2013 season as the pair helped the Sycamores send a record number of athletes to the NCAA East Preliminary after both teams won conference titles.
“It’s a really nice honor. I think gives huge accolades to coach McNichols and I that we got that. It’s voted on by the other coaches in the region. We have a great staff and this is all kind of their award too,” Martin said.