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Shaquille Walker, BYU’s All-American middle-distance runner, will seek his first national title at the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which will begin today in Eugene, Oregon. It also could mark the last race of his collegiate career.
Walker, a junior from Georgia, might turn professional following the national meet.
“If he runs as fast as he thinks he’s going to, he might turn pro,” says BYU coach Ed Eyestone. “He’s been considering it. He’s been getting offers (from shoe companies) and evaluating his position with agents per NCAA rules. I told him, ‘If you run fast, everything else will take care of itself.’”
Walker has the second fastest time in the nation this season in the 800-meter run, a school-record 1:44.99. He placed third in the NCAA indoor championships in March and fifth in last year’s NCAA outdoor championships. In the latter meet, Walker was the only qualifier in the 800-meter final who ran the prelims of the 4 x 400 relay. “I thought it left him a little flat for the 800 final,” says Eyestone, who will run another athlete in Walker’s place in this week’s 4 x 400 prelims.
The NCAA championships will continue to follow a unique format: The men will compete Wednesday and Friday, the women Thursday and Saturday, with semifinals held the first day and the finals the second day. All four days of competition will be televised live each evening (5:30 mountain time on Wednesday and Thursday, 6:30 Friday and 4:30 Saturday).
Walker is one of nearly two dozen Utah athletes who will compete in the meet. BYU qualified athletes in nine individual events, and Utah State six.
Eyestone notes that BYU is the only school in the nation to qualify athletes in the 400, 800, 1,500, steeplechase, 5,000 and 10,000. “I’m proud of that,” he says.
Utah State has quietly built the state’s top sprint program in recent years, mostly with local talent. The Aggies’ 4 x 400 relay team of Parker Bluth, Clay Lambourne, Brady Martin and AJ Boully set a school record of 3:04.48 to finish fourth in the NCAA West Region championships. Bluth (Riverton), Lambourne (Riverton) and Martin (Sky View) all prepped in Utah.
Bluth qualified for the NCAA meet in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, as well as the 4 x 400, making him the only Utahn to qualify in three events. He set a school record of 20.59 in the 200 this season and recorded a 100-meter best of 10.20, which ranks 15th.
Besides Walker, several other Utahns have performances that rank among the top 15 of their events heading into the NCAA meet.
BYU’s Zachary Blackham, a junior from Orem who placed third in the high jump in the NCAA indoor meet, is tied for eighth with a jump of 7 feet, 3 inches.
Utah Valley’s Nicholas Taylor, a senior from Texas, qualified in the 100- and 200-meter dashes — the first in school history to qualify for the sprints — and owns personal records of 10.18 and 20.66. He has the 11th fastest time at 100 meters.
BYU’s Aaron Fletcher, a senior from Alaska, has the sixth fastest time in the steeplechase (8:39.10).
Teammate Shea Collinsworth, a junior from Davis High School, has run a season best of 2:03.21 for 800 meters, which ranks eighth. The 800 has been a strong event for the Cougars, who have won four national championships at that distance (indoors and outdoors) since 2009, as well as one in 1987, all with former Utah preps. The last to win it was Nachelle Mackie in 2012.
Utah’s qualifiers for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
Shaquille Walker 800, 4x400
Zac Blackham high jump
Shea Collinsworth 800 meters
Aaron Fletcher steeplechase
Connor McMillan 10,000 meters
Rory Linkletter 5,000 meters
Chase Horrocks 1,500 meters
Jackson Walker decathlon
Jesse White 400, 4x400
Mark Carlson 4x400 relay
Tyrell Yardley 4x400 relay
Sarah Feeney 1,500 meters
Andrea Chavez 1,500 meters
Parker Bluth 100, 200, 4x400
Clay Lambourne 800 meters
AJ Boully 400 hurdles, 4x400
Dillon Maggard 1,500 meters
Maci Bingham hammer throw
Brady Martin 4 x 400 relay
Cole Lambourne 4 x 400 relay
Nicholas Taylor 100, 200
Jayson Kovar discus
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org