May 26, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas - Natalja Piliusina won the NCAA West Regional women's 1,500 meter title and German Fernandez and Girma Mecheso also earned spots into the NCAA Championships field in the men's 1,500 meters and men's 5,000 meters, respectively, to highlight the Oklahoma State track and field team's showing on the third and final day at the NCAA West Preliminary at Mike A. Myers Stadium Saturday.
With NCAA Regional action now complete, Oklahoma State is set to send seven athletes to compete in eight events at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa from June 6-9. The list:
Men's 1,500 meters - German Fernandez
A prime candidate to win the NCAA title in the women's 1,500 meters as the No. 1-ranked runner in the country this season, Piliusina started Saturday's race conservatively. She was at the very back of the pack for most of the first lap before moving up to fourth after two laps. She was neck-and-neck with the leader after three laps and eventually took over the top spot on the final turn, then cruised down the last straightaway to lock up her regional title and NCAA berth in 4:16.61. Making her win significant is the fact that the person she wrestled the lead away from on the last turn was one of Piliusina's top challengers for the NCAA title, No. 2-ranked Katie Flood of Washington.
"Natalja did a great job in her race," Head coach Dave Smith said. "We told her to stay out of trouble in the first 800 meters and keep her eye on the front of the pack. I actually told her to just work toward a top five finish to qualify, but she's so competitive that if she sees a body in front of her, she's going to run it down."
Also earning a spot into the NCAA field Saturday was men's 1,500 meter runner German Fernandez, who was fourth in his heat with a time of 3:46.58. Fernandez was outside of the top five spots in his heat for a good bit of the final lap, but kicked into gear with about 200 meters remaining to place in the top five and earn an automatic berth into the NCAA field. Fernandez won the NCAA title in this event as a true freshman in 2009.
"German was in a very tactical race and he was boxed in with about 200 meters left which made us a little nervous," Smith said. "It took some crafty running from him to get out of that and that's what he did. It really says something about where he is at right now. He has a couple weeks until nationals and we're excited to see what he can do."
Fernandez's teammates Raul Botezan and Shane Moskowitz also competed in the 1,500 meters, but Botezan's seventh-place finish in 3:57.53 and Moskowitz's 10th-place finish in 3:51.73 fell short of what was necessary to advance to the national meet. Botezan ran with the top five for most of the first three laps, but fell back in the final lap.
After having already qualified for the NCAA 10,000 meter race on Thursday, Mecheso made it a double by running the 5,000 meters in 14:07.73 Saturday to place fourth in his heat and earn a berth into the NCAA Championships in that event as well. Mecheso stayed in the back of the pack until six laps remained, when he worked his way into the middle of the main group. He was seventh with four laps left and worked his way into fourth with three laps left and never relinquished that position.
"Girma ran a very smart race," Smith said. "He was in good position the whole time and when the break happened, he was where he needed to be. He made good decisions. It's tough to run the 10K and come back two nights later and qualify in the five, so we're excited about what he did out there today."
Also competing in the 5,000 meters for Oklahoma State were Kirubel Erassa, who placed 12th in the first heat in 14:53.09 and Neal Smith, who was 16th in the first heat in 15:02.04. Neither Erassa or Smith qualified for the national meet.
Women's hammer thrower Caitlin Way hit a personal best by recording a toss of 57.59 meters/188-11, but it was not enough to qualify her for NCAAs. Way's performance Saturday stands as the third-best in Oklahoma State history and the best since 2005.
Men's discus thrower Andrew Hudson saw his season end Saturday after his lone recorded mark was a 49.67 meter/162-11 toss that placed him 39th in the field. Hudson was in a difficult position after fouling on the first two of his three throws.
2012 NCAA West Preliminary Rounds
Heat 2 (overall)
Men's Discus (top 12 advance to NCAA Championships)
Women's 1,500 meters (top 5 from each heat plus next two best times advance)
Women's Hammer Throw (top 12 advance to NCAA Championships)
* Advanced to the NCAA Championships