At 2:25 p.m. on Saturday, the starter’s pistol fired to signal the start of the men’s 110m hurdles.
Ten hurdles and less than 14 seconds later, juniors Jazz Trice and Poly Gnepa made UC Davis history by becoming the first Aggies to qualify for the NCAA Division I National Track and Field Championships. Trice finished in third, with Gnepa earning the last automatic qualifier in fifth.
“I’m still in shock,” said Trice a few hours later. “That was the goal: to just do my best and get in the top five. I’m still kind of speechless. I saw my time and then it hit me that I’m going to nationals. I really don’t have anything to say. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it’s really exciting.“
Trice clocked a 13.57 – the fastest ever by an Aggie – and Gnepa crossed at 13.75, second only to his wind-aided 13.69 in the prelims. Due to a 3.5 meters per second tail wind, their final marks won’t count for records. In that regard, Trice officially set a new record in his heats, clocking 13.73 seconds.
Gnepa, meanwhile, had only one thing on his mind: a top-five finish.
“I told myself I got to be fifth, I got to be fifth,” Gnepa said. “When I finished, they showed the first four places, and then it took a while to show fifth place. When I saw my place it was just crazy. We weren’t really worried about everyone else. We just wanted to get that top five.“
While the short hurdlers more than lived up to their hype, things didn’t go as smoothly in the longer event. National No. 14 Alex Wilright, who was expected to get a top-five spot, ended up getting disqualified for having his trail leg go around some of the hurdles on the back-stretch. This ended his chance to qualify for nationals.
Though he won’t be going to the NCAA Nationals, Wilright has qualified for the USA Track and Field National Championships. He has yet to decide if he will prolong his season.
While he didn’t make the finals, Thomas Phillips may end up in better shape than Wilright. Anyone who finished in the top 12 is eligible for an at-large berth. By finishing 11th – a mere eight thousandths of a second ahead of 13th – Phillips has an outside chance to go to the national championships.
Regardless, he knows what he did wrong, and is taking it for a learning experience.
“I’ve been 15-stepping this whole year, and basically a 15-step is too small for my size,“ Phillips said. “I’ve got to 13-step. There’s guys shorter than me and they 13-step, so I’ve got to do that. I would have liked to have learned that lesson some other meet, but I’ve got two other years left so I know what I need to do.“
Similarly, steeplechase No. 4 seed Russ Pfaff – who has the 16th best time in the nation – was unable to advance as he took 19th at 9:16.50.
“I told [distance coach] Drew [Wartenburg] that I got this stupid stuff out of the way my first try,” Pfaff said. “So now when I go back I’ll be a lot more prepared and know exactly what I’m getting myself into. I won’t make those same mistakes.“
Though there were no national qualifiers in the field, the jumpers represented UC Davis well.
Ben Nelson – seeded ninth coming into the meet – finished sixth by clearing 2.09m in the high jump to nearly qualify for the national championships. Like Phillips, Nelson is in the at-large pool and will learn if he’s made nationals on Tuesday.
The pole vault saw freshman Ethan Ostrom clear 4.91m to tie for 23rd as well as senior Jamie Feaster clear 5.06m to tie for 17th. That was a one-centimeter personal best for Feaster, who entered the meet having cleared 5m only once. He went 5.05m at Sacramento State to qualify for the Regional meet.
“It was some great competition, some of the best guys there are,“ Feaster said. “I was hoping to jump what I did, then I was hoping to jump 5.16m, and I was really close to it, but I just didn’t have enough pole today. I went up two poles that I’d never been on before, and I actually need another one.
“But all in all I jumped a foot and a half higher than I jumped last year, so I’m definitely happy how I ended the year. Pretty crazy-big jump this year.“
As a whole, the Aggies placed 15th in the West Region, scoring 13 points – 11.5 more points than last year.
“I’m just really excited how far Davis has come this year for track and field,” Trice said. “I know we had about double the amount of people qualifying for regionals and more people in the finals than we thought we would. And to have people go to nationals is amazing. I’m just really glad that I’m getting the opportunity to do that.“
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.