Trio of Bulldogs Heads to Jacksonville with Hopes of Qualifying for NCAA Championships
NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The Yale men's track and field team will send three of its top athletes to Jacksonville, Fla., this weekend to compete at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round, the annual qualifier for the NCAA Division I Championships. In order to qualify for the East Preliminary Round—which will be held Thursday through Saturday—athletes had to record one of the top 48 marks in a given event among the athletes in the designated East region during the outdoor season. The top 12 competitors in each event in Jacksonville will earn spots at the NCAA Championships, scheduled to take place June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.
Sophomore Kevin Dooney, senior James Shirvell and sophomore Duncan Tomlin will all be running in Florida this weekend after recording especially strong times in their respective events this season. Dooney will take part in the 10,000-meter run, Shirvell will run the 1,500-meters and Tomlin will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Shirvell will be the first Bulldog to run this weekend, as the 1,500-meter first-round race is slated for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. Of the 48 runners who compete in Thursday's race, 24 (the top five from each heat, plus the next four fastest times) will then qualify for the second-round race on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Of those 24 runners, 12 will earns spots at the NCAA Championships. Shirvell is no stranger to this level of competition, as he qualified for the East Preliminary Round in the 1,500-meters last season before advancing all the way to the NCAA Championships. The team captain will be hoping to duplicate that feat this weekend.
"I am much more comfortable competing here this year than last," said Shirvell about the East Preliminary Round. "I've been in this situation before, and I know exactly what I need to do to move on. I just have to put myself in good positions to close hard and finish in the top five [in my heat]. I'll be racing against some really talented athletes, so I just have to be aware of my position at all times because everyone else can close hard as well."
A native of Mystic, Conn., Shirvell enters the East Preliminary Round with the 24th-seeded time in the 1,500-meters: a 3:44.31 he ran en route to a longer mile run at the Penn Relays back in April. He entered last year's Preliminary Round with a similar season-best time before recording back-to-back personal records in both of the weekend's races: a 3:43.43 followed by a 3:41.09. If Shirvell approaches those times again this year, he should give himself a chance to advance to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year.
"I'm trying to end my season on a high note," Shirvell added.
Dooney will run his only race of the weekend on Thursday night at 9:00 p.m., and the top 12 of the 48 runners in the field will advance to the NCAA Championships. Like Shirvell, Dooney has experience running at this high level of competition, having become the sixth Yale athlete since 1991 to qualify and compete at the NCAA Cross Country Championships during the most recent cross country season. Dooney's other impressive accomplishments include running for Ireland's U-23 national team at the 2013 European Cross Country Championships and shattering Yale's all-time 5,000-meter run record during the most recent indoor season.
The Elis' star distance runner heads into the weekend with the ninth-fastest 10,000-meter qualifying time among all 48 eligible athletes: an impressive 29:10.13 he registered at the Stanford Invitational in early April. That time stands as the second-fastest 10,000-meter personal record in school history. Dooney last ran this event more than two weeks ago, when he finished third overall at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.
"As far as goals are concerned, all that really matters here is qualifying for Nationals," said Dooney about this weekend's meet. "Given where I'm seeded and how my season has progressed so far, I feel confident that I can qualify, but it's still going to be a challenging race."
Dooney and Shirvell will certainly be fitting representatives for the Bulldogs in Florida. Two weeks ago, the pair was awarded the Jim Stack Award, which is given each year to the track and field athletes who best personify Jim Stack '61, the captain of the 1961 Yale track and field team that won the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet, the Ivy League Championships and the IC4As all in the same season.
Finally, Tomlin will run in his lone race of the weekend—the 3,000-meter steeplechase—on Friday at 8:50 p.m. After competing in the event for the first time at the collegiate level in April of his freshman season, the sophomore displayed remarkable improvement throughout the 2014 season. He opened the season by running a personal record time of 9:10.85 at the Stanford Invitational. Since then, he has set personal records in the event on three additional occasions. After finishing 10th at the Penn Relays and fourth at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships (a big improvement from his 12th-place finish the year before), the San Diego native set the ninth-fastest personal record in school history at the IC4A Championships, where he placed sixth in the competitive field and earned All-East honors. His time of 8:58.34 at the IC4As gives him the 30th-seeded time heading into the East Preliminary Round, where he will be looking to set yet another personal record.
"My goal at the beginning of the season was exactly this: to break 9:00 in the steeple and to qualify for NCAA Regionals," Tomlin said. "At the beginning of the outdoor season, I was not sure how attainable this goal would be, so I am extremely excited that everything has fallen into place so far."
Despite his excitement, Tomlin is doing his best to remain focused and continue to get better with every race.
"I think I still have several aspects of my racing ability that need improvement, especially my hurdle work," he said. "I guess I have been inspired, in a way, by seeing all the amazing competitors I will be facing at Regionals, but even more so by watching my teammates train hard all year."
Complete results for the East Preliminary Round will be available on www.yalebulldogs.com at the conclusion of each day of the meet.
Report by Zach Schloss '15, Yale Sports Publicity