Eagles should have no shortage of contenders at NCCAA meet

David McWilliams will be one of two OC runners attempting the 3,000-5,000-meter double this week at the NCCAA Indoor Championships.
David McWilliams will be one of two OC runners attempting the 3,000-5,000-meter double this week at the NCCAA Indoor Championships.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 13, 2013) – In recent years, Oklahoma Christian has become known for its strong middle- and long-distance track programs, and the Eagles certainly figure to be competitive in most of those events in this week’s National Christian College Athletic Association Indoor Championships.

But OC also should challenge for high honors in a handful of field events and the heptathlon, making the Eagles serious contenders to post a top-three team finish at the meet, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Troyer Fieldhouse at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind.

Azusa Pacific (Calif.), Shorter (Ga.), Cedarville (Ohio) and Olivet Nazarene (Ill.), among others, all should have strong teams, as could a number of other schools that, like OC, have joined the NCCAA as they make the transition from the NAIA into NCAA Division II.

“We’ve got a chance to be up in there,” OC head coach Randy Heath said. “It depends on how we do those days, of course, but I think our men are definitely top-five material team-wise for this meet. We hope to get a lot of great individual performances and see how many points we can score. I think third is a realistic goal.”

On paper, the Eagles’ two best chances at individual wins appear to be in the mile and the 3,000 meters. Senior Brayden Barrientez has the top mile time in the NCCAA at 4:13.66, while sophomore Roberto Diaz is coming off a stellar 3,000 in the Tyson Invitational last Saturday. His converted time of 8:22.17 in that race ranks him second in the NCCAA.

The biggest key for both Barrientez and Diaz could be the number of events in which they’ll run. Barrientez plans to run the 1,600-meter anchor leg for OC’s distance medley relay team on Friday night, a leg on the Eagles’ 4x800-meter relay team early Saturday, then the mile, then the 800 meters, although he could bypass the 800 if he becomes too fatigued.

“Brayden wanted to do as many events as he could,” said OC assistant coach Wade Miller, who works with the Eagles’ middle- and long-distance runners. “Being a senior, he wanted to go out with a bang and score as many points as he could for the team.”

Diaz also will have a busy schedule, running the 1,200-meter leg in the DMR and one of the 4x800 relay legs before racing the 3,000 near the end of the meet on Saturday.

“We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game,” Miller said. “Roberto has got some momentum coming into it. A lot of it will depend on what everybody else does. Obviously, we’re going to be fatigued. Both those guys will have run two races before they get to their specialty race. If the rest of the guys in the field are doing something similar, that kind of evens things out. But our guys know how to race and are really good competitors. They can push through it.”

Three other OC distance runners, seniors Geoffrey Njonjo and David McWilliams and freshman Bryant Keirns, will try to do the 3,000-5,000-meter double. The 5K race will be Friday night, with Njonjo (ranked third), McWilliams (ranked eighth) and Keirns (ranked 12th) all good candidates to score team points for the Eagles. Another OC freshman, Trent Stephens, will run the 5,000 as well.

In the 3,000 on Saturday afternoon, McWilliams (ranked seventh) and Njonjo (ranked 10th) will join Diaz in giving OC a trio of contenders. Keirns and sophomore Brennym Kaelin will also run in the 3,000 for OC.

“We’ve got a chance to score with three people in each of those races,” Heath said.

Joining Barrientez in the 800 will be Nick Stoots, David Koistinen and Ryan Lutterloh, who ranks 13th entering the race.

OC traditionally has had strong distance medley relay teams and this year should be no exception, as the Eagles are ranked second in the event. Diaz will open the race for the Eagles, followed by Lutterloh on the 400-meter leg and Stoots on the 800-meter leg before Barrientez runs the anchor leg.

The Eagles also have chances to score points in three other relays, entering the meet ranked second in the 4x800 meters (with Stoots, Koistinen, Diaz and Barrientez), fifth in the 4x200 meters (Trent Parker, Lutterloh, Winston Ogletree and Jamal George) and 12th in the 4x400 meters (Parker, Lutterloh, Ogletree and Austin Wallace).

In the field events, OC will have four competitors. Senior Tracy Marshall is ranked fourth in the long jump and 11th in the triple jump and figures to contend for a top-eight finish in both events, while freshman Adam Zolman will be OC’s first national-meet entrant in the pole vault in several years.

Sophomore Larry Brown enters the meet 11th in the weight throw – coming off a season-best effort of 51 feet, 7¼ inches (15.73 meters) last Saturday in the Oklahoma Baptist Indoor Invitational – and will be joined in that event by Connor Lankford.

Wallace, a freshman, is ranked third in the heptathlon and is peaking at the right time to score points for OC in that event, Heath said.

“He’s mainly a hurdler and a relay runner, but he wanted to train for the multi events and he’s picked up the new events well, including the long jump and pole vault and shot,” Heath said. “He has done well to get to the point to be ranked third.”

George and Ogletree will be OC’s only individual sprinters, with both entered in the 200 meters.