Track and field running a whole different show

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Track and field on the collegiate level operates differently than any other sport. BYU’s team travels throughout the spring, participating in both indoor and outdoor meets, but what most regular spectators don’t know is that track and field athletes are two-sport athletes.

Indoor season begins in December and ends in February, while outdoor season begins in late February and ends in early June. NCAA rules state that athletes can red-shirt both seasons, because indoor and outdoor track and field operate as two different sports. There are indoor all-time records and outdoor all-time records; there is an indoor national championship and an outdoor national championship.

Senior Ryan Waite holds the indoor school record for the 800 meter race, but not the outdoor record. His goal for indoor season is to qualify for nationals, where the top 16 are invited to compete, and he currently sits at No. 10.

BYU Junior Phillip Bettis sprints down his lane before attempting a long jump in the Smith Fieldhouse. (Photo by Luke Hansen)
BYU Junior Phillip Bettis sprints down his lane before attempting a long jump in the Smith Fieldhouse. (Photo by Luke Hansen)

Eligibility is a whole new game if you run cross country as well. All BYU cross country athletes run track as well, and their season is from August to December. Cross country runners are competing nonstop from August to June and are three-sport athletes. With the presence of a third sport, athletes now have a third year to red shirt. An athlete can red shirt indoor track and then participate in cross country and outdoor track and field in the same year.

“I think it’s really hard for distance runners because the season is split into three parts with cross country, indoor track and outdoor track,” Waite said, “whereas in other sports you compete for four or five months and then you have seven or eight months of rest. As a distance runner you have nine months of competition and then three months off, but in your rest you are preparing for the next season because it is right around the corner.”

Another aspect of track and field different than any other sport is the championship meet, and for BYU it is even more unique. Compared to a basketball tournament or a football bowl game, track is much more individual. While other athletes are competing with each other for playing time, track athletes are competing with each other just to attend the meet.

Only 27 athletes from the men’s team and 27 athletes from the women’s team were selected to compete in the conference championship meet, leaving more than 50 athletes at home to patiently await the results. There is an art to selecting these athletes. Not only do they need to be the best of the best in their event; they need to be valuable. An athlete that can win or place in multiple events is much more valuable than an athlete that will only place in one event.

When BYU left the Mountain West Conference for the Pac-12, its indoor conference meet changed. It no longer exists because the Pac-12 does not hold an indoor conference championship meet. Instead, BYU competes in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) indoor championship meet. The MPSF is a compilation of teams needing a home, or a conference for schools in the West. This is the last chance for athletes to earn qualifying marks for NCAA nationals since there is no NCAA regionals meet in the indoor season either.

In 2011, BYU men’s track team took third place at NCAA nationals. While the entire team held the honors, this feat was accomplished by fewe than a dozen team members. Track and field is an individual sport that strongly relies on the individual to take the team to the top.

The Cougars just spent their weekend competing at the MPSF meet in Washington, with the best teams the West has to offer. Stanford, California, Washington, Arizona and Arizona State were some of the schools at the MPSF championship meet.

“This meet is much, much better than anything we will ever have competed in,” men’s track and field head coach Mark Robison said. “It’s the best teams in the West.”

The men’s team placed sixth overall, and the women’s team placed ninth overall at the MPSF meet. Highlights from the men’s side include Victor Weirich winning first place in the pole vault, and Fan-Fan Charles taking fourth place in the 60 meter dash. Also, David Graham finished third place in the 800 meter dash. For the women, Elizabeth Wilson completed an impressive second-place finish in the pentathlon. Kelsey Brown finished fourth in the 800 meter dash; it was only her second time competing in that event.

A full list of results can be found at GoHuskies.com. The Cougars have one week off and then will be competing in the NCAA National Championship meet in Arkansas.

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