NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Three of Yale's top middle-distance runners will make the trip down to Jacksonville, Fla., for their biggest meet of the season: the NCAA DI Eastern Preliminaries. Hosted by the University of North Florida, this meet features only the best athletes from the eastern half of the country, all vying to qualify for the NCAA National Championship in Eugene, Ore. In order to qualify, three Bulldogs had to rank within the top 48 athletes in their event in the eastern region.
But in order to advance, these athletes must place in the top 12 of their event, a feat that hasn't been realized since Kate Grace '11 was All-American in her final season in the 800-meter run. This speaks to the strong competition the Bulldogs will face this coming weekend. The NCAA Eastern Preliminaries will have both a first round and a quarterfinal round to cut the field down to 12.
Juniors Frances Schmiede and Emily Waligurski will both be featured in the first round of the 1,500-meter run, which will take place this coming Thursday at 5:30 p.m. With her record time of 4:17.70, Schmiede is ranked fifth amongst her competitors, putting her in the best position to advance. The legendary middle-distance runner has had quite the breakout seasons in both cross country and track, while in the process earning two records amongst other victories and accolades. Earlier this month she was even awarded the James Stack Award for her unbelievable track season.
However, it will take much more than ranking for Schmiede to pass both rounds of the Eastern Preliminaries, especially since the range of times tends to be incredibly narrow. She already competed in the NCAA Indoor National Championship earlier this season and thus has more experience under her belt going into this weekend.
Waligurski will make her second consecutive trip to the NCAA Eastern Preliminaries, having run this same event last year and placed 39th. This year she ranks 28th in the 1,500-meter run with her personal best of 4:22.11, which she ran at the Virginia Challenge. The 2015 James Stack Award winner has had a productive outdoor season, claiming personal bests in both the 800- and 1,500-meter runs. Schmiede's phenomenal year might overshadow the fact that Waligurski is one of Yale's best middle-distance athletes: she owns the fourth-fastest time in the 1,500-meter run.
Both Schmiede and Waligurski will run in the second heat of the 1,500-meter run this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The top five from each of four randomly selected heats will advance to the quarterfinals, as well as the next four fastest times. Amongst the athletes in their heat, Schmiede ranks second and Waligurski ranks seventh.
Senor Shannon McDonnell will compete a few hours afterwards in the 800-meter run at 8:10 p.m. This will be McDonnell's second trip to the NCAA Eastern Preliminaries. She ranks 31st with her season best of 2:07.09 in what will surely be a highly contested first round of the 800-meter run. With more than half of her competitors fitting within a narrow two-second range, McDonnell definitely stands a fighting chance of making it to the quarterfinal round. The senior has had a memorable season on the track, having won the 800-meter run at the Indoor Heptagonal Championship amongst other victories along the way. The three-time All-Eastern honoree will look to close out her momentous career with a bang in what might be the last couple of races of her collegiate career.
McDonnell will be in the third heat of the 800-meter run, which will go off at around 8:10 p.m.
For a complete schedule of events please see here. A full list of qualifiers can be found here.
Preview by Ariel A. Sánchez '19, Yale Sports Publicity