May 22, 2013

NCAA Regionals Approach for Two Dedicated Bulldogs

Kayali Competes in Final Season, Garry Continues Steeple Streak

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The first day of the NCAA Division I Track and Field East Preliminary Round will kick off this Thursday. Two Bulldogs will be participating, having placed among the top 48 competitors in the East Region for their events. Graduating senior Nihal Kayali—a versatile distance runner—will compete in the 5,000-meter run on Saturday, while rising junior Kira Garry, also successful in many distance events, will take on her challengers in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Friday.

After captaining the cross country team this year, Kayali continued on to compete in the mile and 3,000-meter races in indoor track. She did well in both, leading her team in the two events, as well as coming within two seconds of her personal best in the mile and setting a new best time in the 3,000-meter run. However, this time was not to remain her best for long, as she quickly improved on it in the outdoor season. The event was longer than the middle distance events she tended to stick to, a product of a recent shift in her training.

However, she still competed in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter runs during the outdoor season, again running the fastest time of her teammates in the 1,500-meter run. Yet it was the 3,000 and 5,000-meter runs—events in which she had little experience in over her four years of competition –in which she showed the true breadth of her abilities.

Kayali explained this surprising turn-around in her already prosperous career, saying, "This has been an exciting experimental season for me. While in past years I focused largely on middle distance events (mainly the 1500/mile) this winter an injury that interfered with speed training turned my focus to the 3000 indoors. After seeing success there, we decided (to) attempt a stretch for the 5000 outdoors!"

Thus, Kayali demonstrated not only her athletic ability, but a dogged determination despite her injury—a challenge enthusiastically seized this year. Her devotion paid off in full when she traveled to Raleigh, N.C., in March with a few select distance runners to compete in the 5,000-meter run for the first time in her career. She finished 12th among a competitive field, completing the race in 16:30.63. With this time, she ranked 40th in her region, thus qualifying for the East Preliminary Round. The same performance also qualified her for the ECAC Championship meet, where she placed seventh.

This will not be Kayali's first time competing in East Regionals. In 2012, she competed for her team in the 1,500-meter run. Furthermore, as sophomore, she also raced in the event, advancing to the semi-final round. Still, this experienced athlete is more motivated than ever to renew her place at the starting line, expressing her feelings about taking on a new event:

"Though I can't say my mid-distance runner identity crisis is fully resolved, I'm incredibly excited to travel to Greensboro for the opportunity to battle some of the best distance runners in the East region next weekend."

Kayali's athletic achievements are accompanied by a devoted leadership of her team, demonstrated by her receiving the James Stack award twice in a row for her many contributions. As she finishes up her last season, her teammates are sure to appreciate her enthusiasm for the sport, a sentiment her fellow qualifier, Garry, summed up, saying, "I'm happy to go down to Greensboro with Nihal; she was a great cross country captain and role model. I'll miss her next year!"

As for Garry, she will be competing at the meet for the second time, with the first being during her freshman year. Shortly after joining the team, the steeplechase quickly emerged as Garry's best event. In fact, at the New Balance Boston Twilight meet during her freshman year, she broke the Yale record in the event. Her performance at that meet also qualified her to compete in the U.S. Junior National Championships, where she placed fifth. Garry's legacy as an athlete began with her mother, Louisa Gerritz Garry, who graduated from Yale in 1987 and was a standout in many short and middle distance races, as well as in both the 100-meter and 400-meter hurdles.

In addition to competing on the cross country team, Garry has shown herself a valuable talent in many middle and long distance track events. During the 2012-2013 outdoor track season, she saw a new personal best time in the 1,500-meter, in addition to successfully competing in the 3,000-meter, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races. Still, her most prolific performances have been in her signature event—including an eighth-place steeplechase finish at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. At ECACs, she claimed fifth place and the 30th-best time in her division, qualifying for East Regionals with her time of 10:27.83.

When asked, Garry expressed her excitement at this stirring race—just over five seconds off her record-breaking best time—and the opportunity it gave her to compete at the upcoming meet. She also discussed the team's season more broadly, as well as her enthusiasm and support for her teammates, saying, "I think ECACs was a good indication of where we're at and our training the past couple (of) weeks has shown that we are ready to go. We have a great group competing and I think for some of us our seasons are just coming together now. It will be an exciting couple days of racing."

Garry is likely to continue to be an asset to the team in her remaining two years of competition, both as a skilled competitor and invaluable team player.

The first round of the NCAA Championships will be hosted by North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. The meet will begin on Thursday afternoon and continue until Saturday. A complete schedule of events is available here.

Links to results will be available at the end of each day at http://www.ncaa.com/content/di-track-field-participants-and-results. A complete list of qualifiers is also posted at this site. 

Report by Maria Seravalli '16, Yale Sports Publicity