Eastern to Send 11 Athletes to Austin for West Preliminaries

Eastern to Send 11 Athletes to Austin for West Preliminaries

Numerous Eagles will compete for a top-12 finish to earn a spot at the NCAA National Championships

The Big Sky Conference Championships may be in the rearview mirror, but for 11 Eastern Washington University track and field athletes, the season is far from over as they will make the trek to Austin, Texas, for the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Rounds on Thursday-Saturday (May 28-30).

"The West Regional and East Regional have both proven to be really elite meets. You have approximately 1,700 athletes at each of the two meets vying for a limited number of spots," said head men's coach Stan Kerr. "It's head-to-head competition which is just the way athletics should work. It's time to find out who is competing well at this time of the year."

The meet will be hosted by the University of Texas at Mike A. Myers Stadium. A handful of jumpers and throwers competed in Austin at the Texas Relays earlier this season. This meet will serve as a preliminary round for the NCAA Championships, which will be contested on June 10-13 in Eugene, Oregon. Athletes who place in the top 12 of their respective events will advance to the National Championship meet.

"There are only two regions in the United States. It's becoming more and more difficult and competitive each year and it's a tough meet to get into," said head women's coach Marcia Mecklenburg. "If you've made it to the preliminary round you have really accomplished something. Anytime you can run against the top athletes in the Nation it's an opportunity to become more experienced and that will only help you in the future."

Eastern will be sending seven women and four men to the meet, identical to the total number of Eagles who competed in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at last year's West Region Preliminary Rounds. Four seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, and one freshman comprise the postseason crew.

"I'm looking forward to watching the seniors compete. Some of them have never been here before and it will be fun to get the opportunity to watch them compete against top fields," said Mecklenburg. "For some it will be their fourth time there and it's kind of bittersweet, but it's an honor for a coach to have an athlete compete at this meet."

Eastern sent an unprecedented three athletes to the national meet last season. Jordan Arakawa, Emma Murillo, and Catie Arrigoni will be back this year with their sights set on their second-consecutive berths to championships.

"I hope our athletes have a great collegiate national experience, and part of that is hitting personal bests," said Kerr. "We are realistic about moving on to Eugene because we're competing with the best athletes in the country, but if they can come away with a personal all-time best that's great."

Women's Team Preview

On the women's side, Eastern will send seniors Emma Murillo and Morena Mannucci, juniors Katie Mahoney and Catie Arrigoni, along with sophomores Paula Gil-Echevarria, Samantha Baker, and Sarah Reiter.

After a 10-foot personal-best that cemented Murillo's second-consecutive Big Sky javelin title at the conference championships, she is the highest ranked Eagle heading into competition. The senior ranks seventh with a toss of 168-0. Murillo is no stranger to postseason competition, as she advanced to the NCAA Division I Championships in the javelin last season with a throw of 156-11 to place 10th overall.

"Emma has had a great season so far. It's just been a dream five years for her at Eastern. She's improved every year and continues to improve this year," said Mecklenburg. "Last year she went to regionals after improving at the Big Sky Championships and she qualified for Nationals, so that's the goal this year. She's on track if we go by what happened last year."

Murillo is also the only Eastern competitor entered in two events, as she will try to advance in the discus as well. She ranks 43rd overall with a toss of 169-0, a mark that broke the school record this season at the Pelluer Invitational.

"It's difficult to qualify in two events, especially in the throws," said Mecklenburg. "It's not like the shot put and discus which are similar -- its two totally different events. That says a lot about Emma and what she can do with her talents. This is the first time she's qualified in two events, and both of her marks are huge personal bests."

Mannucci, who just won her first Big Sky title in the triple jump with a school record leap of 41-1 3/4, heads into her first preliminary round ranked 28th in the triple jump field. Mannucci also set the indoor triple jump school record at the 2015 Big Sky Indoor Championships with a mark of 39-5 3/4 to place third overall.

"Morena has struggled with injuries throughout her college career, and finally during her senior year she put things together and figured it out," said Mecklenburg. "She's been jumping well and she's been jumping well at the right time. I can see her jumping a personal best again and hopefully it will be enough to get her into the top 12."

Gil-Echevarria, Mahoney, and Arrigoni will be making their second-consecutive regional meet appearance in the 3,000-meter steeplechase -- the trio currently holds the top three times in school history.

"The distance events are our strongest area right now with four athletes competing. The three steeplechase runners that we sent to West Regionals last year are back again this year," said Mecklenburg. "Some of them aren't doing quite as well as they have in the past, but that doesn't mean they can't pull it together and do well. With that steeplechase crew, anything can happen. Last year we got one athlete through to the National Championships and hopefully this year we'll get all three."

Gil-Echevarria heads the talented group, as she ranks 20th overall with a personal-best of 10:22.16 that ranks third all-time at Eastern. She is fresh off a third-place finish at the Big Sky Championships in the steeplechase with a time of 10:28.17.

Mahoney heads into her third regional meet ranked 33rd with a time of 10:28.68. At last year's meet, she just missed qualifying for Nationals with a 15th place finish (10:20.21). Her personal best of 10:17.34 ranks second all-time.

Arrigoni ranks 46th with a time of 10:34.83, and is looking to build off her success at last season's regional meet. In Fayetteville, she set a new school record in the steeplechase with a time of 10:14.99, placing 12th overall and booking her ticket to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships.

Joining Murillo in the javelin will be sophomore Samantha Baker, who ranks 39th in the field with a mark of 145-11. Baker is coming off of a sixth-place finish in the javelin at the conference championships.

"Samantha struggled through the first half of the season with injuries. Towards the end she started to do well and scored for us at the conference championships for the first time," said Mecklenburg. "It will be an eye-opening experience for her but hopefully this will be a meet where she can throw a personal best and gain experience for the next few years."

After a second-place finish in the 10,000 at the Big Sky Championships, Reiter ranks 42nd overall in that event with a time of 34:38.42. She ran her personal-best at the Mt. SAC Relays earlier this season and ranks second in school history.

"Sarah is our first women 10,000-meter competitor ever at the West Regional meet. She's had an outstanding year and I'm thrilled she made it in," said Mecklenburg. "This shows all the work she's put in and all the mileage she's put in on the roads. I'm looking for a personal best and we will see where she places, but she's well deserving of this opportunity."

Men's Team Preview

Seniors Jordan Arakawa and Phil Puccino, along with sophomore Trenton Osborn and freshman Jeremy VanAssche will represent for the men.

Fresh off his Big Sky title in the hammer throw, Arakawa will be making his fourth and final appearance at the West Preliminary Round and will look to book his second consecutive ticket to the NCAA Championships. Arakawa is Eastern's highest ranked athlete on the men's side heading into competition, as he sits eighth with a season-best mark of 218-1, achieved at the BSC Championships.

At last season's regional meet, the senior earned an NCAA Division I Championships berth in the hammer throw with a throw of 202-4 1/4 to place 12th overall. Arakawa currently ranks second in school history in that event with a mark of 219-3.

"Back-to-back appearances at the National championships are not an easy thing to do," said Kerr. "His progressions this spring have been wonderful, so he's put himself in a position to do it. He knows what to anticipate and what to do to get ready."

VanAssche will represent Eastern on the track in the 100. His personal-best of 10.42 broke the school record this season and ranks 34th in the field. VanAssche placed fourth in the 100 at the Big Sky Championships this season.

"Jeremy is here as a freshman and he is jacked to get into the 100 and hopefully set another school record," said Kerr. "One of our goals is to advance him to the semifinals on Friday, which would be so fun. He's worked really hard all season."

Making his first preliminary round appearance of his career in the long jump is sophomore Trenton Osborn. He leaped to a second-place finish at the conference championships with a personal-best mark of 24-3 to rank ninth all-time at Eastern. He also won a Big Sky title in the long jump at the 2015 indoor championships with a mark of 24-3 3/4. Osborn has the 40th-best mark in the West Region.

"This is Trenton's debut on the National scene and the biggest meet of his life. He is feeling good and I anticipate a good performance," said Kerr. "He'll have tremendous jumping conditions. With his athleticism and his hard work, he'll have to put together a great series of jumps – he only gets three."

Also making his first preliminary round appearance is senior Phil Puccino who will compete in the high jump. He goes into competition ranked 47th with a personal-best mark of 6-11. Puccino jumped his personal best at the Big Sky Conference Championships where he placed second overall.

"Phil has earned his spot at this meet," said Kerr. "He's persevered through injuries and coaching changes, and I'm just thrilled for him to be in a position to have the opportunity to compete with the best. It would be great to see him come away with a seven foot jump."

Action begins on Thursday with the men's long jump at 1:30 p.m. Central time, followed by the high jump, 10,000, and the first round of the 100.

The women's discus will kick off competition on Friday at noon. The hammer and the steeplechase will also be contested that day.

The triple jump and javelin will wrap up the weekend on Saturday, beginning at 1:30.

"West Regionals are a fun meet to go to. It's awesome with great competition to watch," said Mecklenburg. "I'm looking forward to it and I know our athletes are looking forward to seeing what it's all about, especially the ones who have never been there before."

"The majority of our athletes will be coming back next year and I hope their experiences here carry over to next year," said Kerr. "It's an opportunity to line up with the best in the country. It's a great meet because of the level of competition and it's intense due to all the athletes trying to get a spot in the top 12 to advance to Eugene."

Complete meet information as well as a schedule may be found at --

http://texassports.com/news/2015/3/22/XC_TF_0322151441.aspx

Live video: http://www.texassports.com/watch/?Live=278

Live results: http://branchsportstech.com/NCAAWest/

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