PITTSBURG — The indoor track and field season kicked off with a bang on Saturday for Central Christian College.
The Tigers sent 40 athletes to compete in the Crimson and Gold Invitational hosted by Pittsburg State University and by the end of the day, 9 had qualified for the NAIA Indoor National meet to be held on the same track in early March.
The meet got started for the Tigers in event 10 the men's long jump. Central's Malik Johnson, a transfer from Hinds Community College in Mississippi, jumped 7.02m (23.03 ft) good enough for a 2nd-place finish and a qualifying spot at the NAIA national meet. Two events later, Johnson was back on the runway, this time in the men's triple jump. His best jump of 14.03m (46.03 ft) put him in 5th place and earned him another spot at NAIA nationals.
Event 13 was the women's 60m hurdles. Central's Amanda Murray, also a transfer from Hinds, was seeded 7th in the event based on her times from last season. She kept the qualification train going by running an 8.99 in the final heat of the event and finishing in 7th place, right where she was seeded. There was only one girl from an NAIA school that finished higher than Murray, Chelsea Baker from Friends University, who was two-tenths faster in the same heat.
After the hurdles was the women's 60 dash. The Tigers had just one entry in the event, Temar Smith, who ran an 8.61 and placing her 68th. The men however had 4 in their 60 event. Three were in the final and fastest heat of the day, with the Top 3 in the heat being separated by just 11 hundredths of a second.
The Tigers' Qawtavis Johnson finished in 3rd place with a time of 6.76, which was the top NAIA time at the meet. He was joined in the top 10 by Demaijah Birdsong, who ran 6.82, good enough for 6th place, and was the 2nd best NAIA time of the day. Carlos Vela was in heat No. 6, and finished in 58th with a time of 7.29, and John Jones, who was in the fastest heat, heat 12, likely would have competed for one of the top spots, saw his day end because of a false start. Both Johnson and Birdsong were good enough to qualify for the NAIA nationals.
Next up was the women's 200 dash. Amanda Murray, fresh off her 7th place in the 60 hurdles, ran a 26. 49, which put her in 21st place. Temar Smith, Hannah Fredrickson, the lone senior on the team, and Nelly O'Campoalso competed in the 200. Smith recorded a 27.47, placing her in 40th position, Fredrickson was 54th with a 29.04, and O'Campo rounded things out with a 29.26, good enough for 56th.
In the men's 200m, Qawtavis Johnson had another big showing for the Tigers. He ran an NAIA-best 21.49, which put him in 2nd place in the event. Also in the event for the Tigers were John Jones, who bounced back from is false start in the 60 to finish in 7th place with a time of 21.78, Demaijah Birdsong, who finished in 38th with a time of 22.98, Carlos Vela, whose time of 23.09, landed him in 41st, and Josh Murray who ended up in 61st place by running a time of 24.45. Johnson and Jones' times were good enough to qualify them for nationals.
Hannah Fredrickson, Bre'Anna Whigham , Nelly O'Campo, Justice Espinoza and Vicortia Valencia all competed for the Tigers in the women's 400m. Fredrickson paced the Tigers with a time of 1:04.33 which put her in 26th place. Whigham was six spots behind her at 32nd with a time of 1:06.84. O'Campo was 35th, and Espinoza and Valencia were 37th and 38th respectively.
Three of the Tiger men finished in the Top 10 in their 400 event and they had the three best time among NAIA finishers. Alfred Thomas was third overall with a time of 48:31 while Derek White was 6th in a time of 49.05, and Breshawrd Cooper was 10th with a time of 49.36. Outside of the top 10, Jevon James finished in 29th place with a time of 51.68.
Following the 400, the Tigers had some time to rest as they waited for the relays to commence after the distance events had finished. The first and last event meet for the Tigers was the men's 4 x 400m relay. The Tiger team of Cooper, White, Thomas, and Alan Leyva, had the fastest NAIA time at 3:17.03, which qualified them for the NAIA national meet, and was good enough for 5th place in Saturday's meet.
Second-year head coach, Mike Anderson, who has seen 11 of the 12 NAIA individual qualifiers in school history come from his programs, had this to say about his teams' performances on Saturday.
"We had a great day today,” he said. “In total, we had nine student-athletes qualify for NAIA nationals. All nine are ranked in the Top 5 in the NAIA nationally, including multiple No. 1 rankings. Not only did we have the results we have been working so hard for, but we competed well, too. We had very little mental errors on our part. I am so proud of our team and our coaching staff for putting in the work to make this happen. This exactly the way we wanted to start the season.”
The Tigers will take the Christmas holidays off before resuming competition on Jan. 19 at the South Dakota State Invitational.