JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One long-established Columbia star and one of the Lions’ first-year sensations punched their tickets to the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships final meet Saturday at Hodges Stadium. Senior Kyle Merber will continue his amazing Columbia farewell tour in the 1,500m at nationals in Des Moines, Iowa. First-year Nadia Eke broke her own Columbia record in the triple jump to punch her ticket to the final NCAA meet of the year.
"I'm thrilled by our continued high level of achievement this year," Columbia Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Willy Wood said. "Both of our teams have performed remarkably well over the course of the entire year. I am very excited to have three athletes advance to the final round of the NCAA meet."
After posting outstanding qualifying performances at this week’s NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships East Preliminary Round, Merber and Eke will join sophomore Harry McFann, who qualified in the 800m on Friday, at Drake Stadium from June 6-9, to take on the nation’s elite in their respective events.
Starting out of Lane 3 in Heat 1 of the men’s 1,500m quarterfinal, Merber paced himself well the first half of the race. He was in 10th place after the first 300m before moving to eighth after the 700m mark. Merber turned on the jets in the next 400m, maneuvering his way up the pack to first at the 1,100m mark with a 2:51.68 split time. He remained at the front of the pack and took third in Heat 1 with a time of 3:45.89. Merber’s time ranked third overall of the 24 runners in the quarterfinal.
“I started on the inside, which I never personally enjoy,” Merber said. “I ended up getting boxed in. One of the Virginia Tech guys took it out and we went out pretty fast. So as soon as he stepped off, he seemed to be rabbitting one of his teammates. When he stepped off, the pace slowed down a bit and I was boxed in on the inside. About 800m in, I was able to hop out to my spot on the outside and I just waited until about 250-300m to go and I made a move. The last 100, I got passed by a couple of guys. I think the heat got to me a little bit. I think my muscles started to tighten up a little bit more than I’m used to. But I was able to hold on and get the job done.”
Eke wasted no time making history on Saturday. Her first jump of the day of 13.32m (43’8.5”) smashed the Columbia school record of 12.81m that she set at the Princeton Sam Howell Invitational. That leap ranked fourth among the 48 jumpers at the NCAA East Prelims.
“It was just one of those situations where I had to trust in what I had been practicing so far,” Eke said. “All week I’ve just been on-point with my running. I got so much faster. When I bounded through the week, I felt really good. So just coming into the competition, I just had to give it my all and I was really excited. So I think that’s what took over most of my jumping. It was just an excitement and an honor to be here and take in every opportunity that I got.”
Junior Mark Feigen ran a strong race with Merber in Heat 1 of the men’s 1,500m quarterfinal. Starting in Lane 11, Feigen was at the front for the first half of the race. He was fourth after the first 300m and was as far up as third at the 700m mark (1:48.63 split time). Merber and two other runners near the back of the pack made their move at the halfway mark and Feigen finished 11th in Heat 1 with a time of 3:49.45. Feigen’s time ranked 18th of the 24 runners in the quarterfinal.
Junior Queen Okeke wrapped her 2012 season with a triple jump leap of 11.46m in the triple jump and took 46th place.
Junior Clare Buck finished her season on Saturday, clocking a 17:04.94 in the women’s 5,000m to take 18th in Heat 1 and 36th overall.