Mary Gray

Central's Mary Gray

PELLA — Seven members of the Central College men’s and women’s track and field program are in North Carolina for the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships including a few who missed out on a chance to compete the last time a national meet was in North Carolina.

North Carolina A&T State University and the Greensboro Sports Foundation are hosting this year’s meet at the Irwin Belk Track in Greensboro. The three-day meet kicks off Thursday morning.

The 2020 NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships were slated for March 13-14 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Not even 24 hours before the competition was set to begin, the meet was cancelled at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fast forward fourteen months later, the best of Division III track and field are converging on North Carolina once again after missing three national championship meets. Mary Gray (senior, West Des Moines, Waukee HS), Kennedy Morris (senior, Earlham) and Brock Lewis (junior, Lathrop, Mo.) are all making a return trip to North Carolina while Gillian Streit (senior, Manilla, Harlan HS) is back at the national meet after competing at the 2019 outdoor championship. Kiki Pingel (senior, Pella), Sam Beatty (sophomore, Mount Pleasant) and Caleb Silver (sophomore, Conrad, BCLUW HS) are making their national debuts.

Gray and Pingel will complete their first national women’s heptathlon competitions. Gray qualified eighth with 4,625 points and Pingel is 11th with 4,582 points. At the 2019 indoor national meet, Gray finished 17th in the pentathlon and was qualified for the 2020 version.  Gray has won seven combined events conference titles and Pingel finished on the podium with Gray six times.

“We’re really excited both of them to go out like this as seniors,” coach Brandon Sturman said. “For them to be able to do it together at the national meet is really special. I think it’s a benefit for them to have a teammate in an event like this. We made sure not to overuse them at the conference meet so they could be rested and ready to do something special.”

Streit and Morris will also compete together in the women’s discus throw. Streit had her best toss in the opening meet of the year (149-3) while Morris had her qualifying mark on the last possible day (148-3). They enter the competition seeded No. 11 and No. 12.

“Gillian hit her mark early on but continued to stay focused,” Sturman said. “She’s been consistent all year, some of her other throws would have qualified her as well. Kennedy was working on hammer and discus and we didn’t know which one she would qualify for. She continued working hard on both events but put it all together in the discus to get into the national meet.”

Men’s long jumper Brock Lewis (junior, Lathrop, Mo.) started hitting his stride at the end of the season, recording his two best scoring marks of the season in his final two competitions. He enters the national meet with the fifth-best qualifying jump (24-2.5).

“We’re very excited Brock was able to qualify again,” Sturman said. “He’s been jumping well at the right time and not too far off his lifetime best. It’ll be nice for him to have some more competition to push him.”

Sam Beatty (sophomore, Mount Pleasant) cleared the high jump bar at 6-9 (2.06 meters) on April 30 at a home triangular meet to secure his first national meet appearance. It is a loaded field where all 17 men’s jumpers have cleared 6-8.75 (2.05 meters) this season.

“He’s jumping really well,” Sturman said. “It’s nice to have this opportunity because he didn’t get a shot last year. We knew he was going to help us this spring but we didn’t know he was going to do something so special so soon.”

Caleb Silver (sophomore, Conrad, BCLUW HS) ran the first 3,000-meter steeplechase of his career on April 16 in a time of 9:45.42. Not even a month later, he crossed the line in 9:21.31 to win the American Rivers Conference title on May 14.  The coaching staff gave him one last chance to punch a ticket to the national meet and he ran the second-fastest time in program history, 9:10.50, and is seeded No. 11 this weekend.

“He’s just continuing to get better each and every week,” Sturman said. “After conference, it popped in our heads that he might have a shot so we sent him to a last chance meet and he dropped another 10 seconds. There’s no prelims this year so it’s only going to be a final race, which I think will help him because it will probably a very strategic race.”

Central College NCAA Championships schedule of events

Thursday, May 27 (times are EST)

11:30 a.m. – women's heptathlon (100-meter hurdles)

12:15 p.m. – women's heptathlon (high jump)

2 p.m. – women’s discus throw (prelims and final)

2 p.m. – men’s long jump (prelims and final)

2:15 p.m. – women's heptathlon (shot put)

3:30 p.m. – women's heptathlon (200 meters)

Friday, May 28

11:30 a.m. – women's heptathlon (long jump)

12:15 p.m. – women's heptathlon (javelin throw)

2:30 p.m. – men’s high jump (prelims and final)

2:45 p.m. – women's heptathlon (800 meters)

4:45 p.m. – 3,000-meter steeplechase (final)

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