Pujats, Syversen Lead Track and Field Into 2011 Indoor Championships
Feb. 24, 2011
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The culmination of the hard work Memphis track and field has put into the 2010-11 indoor season will come to fruition, this weekend, at the 2011 Conference USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. For the tenth consecutive year, the event will be hosted by the University of Houston and will take place at the Yeoman Fieldhouse.
In last season’s edition of the conference championships, Memphis finished fifth on the men’s side and 11th in women’s action. Steffen Nerdal was the only individual champion from Memphis, winning the Weight Throw with a conference and facility-record 22.74m (74’ 7.25”) weight throw that earned him “Performance of the Meet” honors.
“I feel like we’re a top-three team on the men’s side, no matter what happens,” said head coach Kevin Robinson. “In terms of talent, we’re in a great position. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
This weekend marks the beginning of the final two weeks competitors have to earn automatic qualifying bids to the NCAA Championships, which begin Mar. 11 at College Station, Tex. Currently, Conference USA has just seven competitors qualified, and Memphis has none entering the weekend.
The Tigers do, however, have several athletes on the cusp of qualifying for the NCAA Championships and several contenders for Conference USA individual titles. The list is dominated by junior pole vaulter Karlis Pujats, whose school-record 5.36m (17’ 7”) vault at last month’s McCravy Memorial is the conference’s highest mark of the season and nearly a foot ahead of his next closest competitor in conference.
Pujats’ mark is currently 12th in the country, which would earn him an invite to the NCAA Championships if the standings remain as they are now. He still needs to hit the 5.50m (18’ 0.5”) mark in order to earn an automatic qualifier.
Pujats isn’t the only Tiger looking to use this weekend to raise his marks to national-qualifying standards. Senior Knut Syversen, the current C-USA Indoor Male Athlete of the Week, is second in the conference with a season-best 20.00m (65’ 7.5”) toss coming two weekends ago at the Hoosier Hills Invite and stands tied for 26th in the nation. To automatically qualify, he will need to improve his throw to 21.50m (70’ 6.5”); currently, to move into the range where he would be accepted into the meet, he needs to improve to roughly 20.50m (67’ 3.75”) as the standings are now. Other Tigers have stepped up during indoor season and are current leaders in their respective disciplines heading into the weekend.
Sophomore Andrew Miller currently paces the conference in the shot put, with his 17.28m (56’ 8.5”) mark nearly a foot ahead of East Carolina’s Dennis Aliotta and over 18 inches longer than Syversen’s, who was the 2009 Indoor shot put champion.
On the track, junior Robert Jackson’s 7.46 in the 55m hurdles at last week’s Redhawk Invite converted to a 7.99 in the 60m hurdles, making Jackson the leader in that event and the only C-USA athlete to earn a sub-eight second 60m hurdle mark in 2011.
Freshman Taurean Nixon is one hundredth of a second behind Houston sophomore Errol Nolan for the 60m dash lead as we head into the championships; with Nixon’s improvement from week to week following his transfer from football to the track, he could pull the upset this weekend against last season’s Freshman of the Meet.
“Balance has been a key for us all year,” said Robinson. “Across the board, there aren’t many events that we don’t have someone who can step up and be competitive.”
The women’s squad doesn’t have anyone on the cusp of national glory (although it’s not out of the question), but several Lady Tigers could pull out conference individual titles. The entire throws group, led by redshirt freshman Britta Jaarats, has shown steady improvement since the beginning of the season and will contend in the shot put and weight throw.
“We’re really hoping the young kids step up and respond in this meet,” said Robinson. “They’ve been a huge part of our attack this year and we hope the championship setting really motivates them. We feel that our young group gives us a solid foundation for the future and this meet will help us see where that’s at.”
Jaarats, in particular, could be dangerous; she’s currently second in the shot put (14.77m; 48’ 5.5”) and seventh in the weight throw (16.60m; 54’ 5.5”).
Sophomore Kirsten Berding has four victories in the high jump in 2011; while her season-best 1.73m (5’ 8”) is in the lower half of the conference elite, Berding is a proven winner who can raise her game to match the opponent’s.
This meet won’t be the last chance for every Tiger, with a select group poised to go to next weekend’s Last Chance Meet at Fayetteville, Ark., in hopes of earning a few more Tiger NCAA bids.