AUSTIN – A Texas Tech men’s team hungry to show its ability to bear down and get the job done in the opening round of an NCAA Championship did just that Wednesday by qualifying a nation-leading seven runners in addition to sending three field athletes to the podium on the opening day of competition in Austin.
Three individuals scored for Tech on the first day. Brandon Bray and Drew McMichael both were named First Team All-Americans, fighting to score in a historically talented pole vault field. The seniors were strong from the start, both surpassing the program record of 18’-2.5” (5.55m) when they cleared 18’-4.5” (5.60m). McMichael topped out there, but Bray, with the school record in hand, joined six other competitors at 18’-8.25” (5.70m) to comprise the largest group to ever clear 5.70m at a national championship meet. Bray finished in seventh with his 5.70m – the best seventh-place finish ever at a title meet – for Tech’s first two points of the meet. McMichael was just behind his teammate, finishing eighth for one point and a personal best in his final meet as a Red Raider.
“The competition was just off the charts,” said assistant coach Tom Slagle, who oversees the vault group. “I was hoping Brandon and Drew could get in the mix and be a part of it. What they did was just incredible.”
Bray’s accomplishment is even more impressive considering he broke his foot at the Corky Classic – just the first meet of his senior indoor season.
“I knew that because of the injury I wouldn’t have high jumps until late in the season,” he said. “I was mentally prepared for that in the weeks leading up to nationals. I knew it was a process and that it would all come together at the right time. It’s amazing to me, and I think I put in the work to deserve that.”
For McMichael, a PR alongside his longtime teammate was a perfect way to end his career.
“Being able to get a PR and be a First Team All-American was the cherry on top to finish up my career at Texas Tech,” he said. “I have nothing but gratitude for my coaches and teammates. This meet was a great one for Brandon and me. I’m happy with how it ended up. Tech has always been great to me and I’ll always be a Red Raider.”
Justin Hall scored for the first time in his collegiate career, doing so in the long jump with a fourth-place finish. Hall’s five points were clutch for Tech, as he was the lone long jumper of three that qualified to score. The junior was hot from the start, landing his fourth wind-legal leap of at least 7.70m in a row when he recorded a jump of 26 feet on his second attempt. One attempt later, he tied for the fifth-farthest jump in program history when he marked a 26’-5” (8.05m) to seal a fourth-place finish. Odaine Lewis made the final after sitting ninth following the first three jumps, but could not move up the leaderboard to score.
“It means the world to me to make it back and contribute to this team at the national level,” said Hall, who missed the title meet last season. “I can thank God, my coaches and my teammates for making it to this position. I hope my points will make an impact on the overall outcome.”
“Justin stepping up and snagging five huge points for us today was outstanding,” said Associate Head Coach James Thomas. “He can proudly say he was a major factor in one of the best NCAA long jump competitions in decades. I’m extremely proud of his effort and competitiveness.”
Three podium appearances signaled great news for Tech on day one, but it is the sheer number of future podium appearances that sets the Red Raiders apart from the other teams competing in Austin. Tech qualified a nation-leading seven for championship races to be held Friday.
“We’ve talked about running two fast rounds every time we go to a postseason meet,” said assistant coach Calvin Robinson. “If you go look at the qualifying marks for these opening rounds, they’re running fast. You’ve got to be prepared from the go, and since we’ve gotten to the postseason these guys have been rolling.”
It began with the 4×100 relay team, which for the third time this season broke the school record. This time, the foursome of Keion Sutton, Divine Oduduru, Andrew Hudson and Jacolby Shelton dipped nearly a quarter-second below their previous mark of 38.83 to run a 38.57. The time placed them second in their heat, which qualified them for an automatic bid to Friday’s final.
Oduduru and Hudson both went on to qualify individually in the 200m. Oduduru dipped below the 20-second barrier for the third time this season – something no other man in the world has done. He ran a 19.97 for what was the best time in the semifinal. Hudson went under 20.10 for the second straight meet, running a 20.09 to secure an at-large spot. Friday will mark the first finals appearance of the senior’s outdoor career.
Oduduru’s sub-20 came after going sub-10 in the 100m just an hour prior. Though just 10 men in history had done both on the same day before this season, Oduduru has now done it twice in the last month and a half. The junior ran a blistering 9.94 and 19.76 at Baylor in April to become the collegiate leader in both events – a title he will still hold going into the championship races for both.
Norman Grimes Jr. did his job in the 400m hurdles to earn a lane in the final. The two-time and defending Big 12 Champion in the event ran sub-50 for the fifth time in his last six races, going 49.39. He led the field after taking a strong final curve and cruised to what would be a second-place finish to secure an auto bid.
Though the sprints and hurdles group qualified a nation-leading seven for title races on Friday, Robinson emphasized the fact that, despite a strong semifinal day, it was just that: a strong semifinal day.
“The main thing that I told every single one of the guys today after we were done was that we haven’t won anything yet,” he said. “All we did today was have a good day. We need to come out and have another good day on Friday.”
The 800m saw two Tech qualifications in the form of Vincent Crisp and Jonah Koech. The latter won his heat while the former snagged one of the two at-large bids with his time of 1:47.46. The duo came out looking for redemption in their primary event after a collision in the semifinal of the 800m at the indoor national meet cost them a chance at points. After a strong and clean preliminary Wednesday, the two will race for points on Friday.
Axel Hubert rounded out his first day of the decathlon with 3,924 points – placing him 12th in the standings. The freshman bounced back from a tough 100m in the pouring rain to march his way up the leaderboard in the ensuing three field events. Hubert climbed as high as fifth place with near-PRs in both the long jump (23’-2.75”) and shot put (48’-8.25”). A 50.85 in the 400m set him back to 12th to round out the day, but his second day will feature some of his strongest events, such as the 110m hurdles and javelin.
Werner Bouwer competed in the javelin for Tech. The Big 12 runner-up this year topped at 227 feet even (69.19m) to place 12th.
The second day of NCAA Outdoor Championship action will commence Thursday and will feature the first day of women’s competition, as well as the final five events of Hubert’s decathlon.
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