For Fort Hays State University’s indoor track and field athletes with provisional qualifying marks, the season is starting to reach crunch time.
The Tigers have their final regular season meet on Friday at the Kansas State University Open before heading to their final meet, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Championships, at Warrensburg, Mo., hosted by the University of Central Missouri.
“We always get anxious at this time of the year,” head coach Dennis Weber said. “We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is still February. There are a few kids that need to keep getting some improvement in order to get to nationals, but by and large, I think we are still progressing as expected.”
The top 12 marks in each event at the end of the year are guaranteed a spot in nationals, but Weber said no provisional mark is safe.
“Kelsey Martin was, I think, sixth all year last year in the long jump, and in the last week, she dropped to 16th or something,” Weber said. “The conference meets usually bring out some really good marks. You won’t really know until afterwards. The only time you are safe is when you have (automatically qualified).”
At the Air Force Academy Invitational on Friday and Saturday, two Tigers improved their national qualifying marks: seniors Darcie Schmitz and Kelsey Martin.
Schmitz had the only top-three performance for Fort Hays, earning third in the triple jump with a leap of 39 feet, 7 1/4 inches and moving to No. 5 in the national standings.
Schmitz did it, despite having an ailing leg.
“My muscles have been really tight and probably not functioning properly,” Schmitz said. “I’m not sure why. The trainers have just been trying to rub it out and get out the knots.”
Schmitz said she thought it helped a lot that her training was backed off a bit heading into the meet.
“Our legs had been so dead that I hadn’t been able to get the marks I had been wanting because I was so fatigued at the meets,” Schmitz said. “It helped that we backed off a little bit. I got some marks that were bigger and a little bit better.”
Martin finished just eighth in the 60-meter hurdles but improved to No. 21 in the standings, finishing in 8.83 seconds in the preliminaries — a big improvement from her 9.14-second finish at the University of Nebraska the week before.
“We knew that Lincoln meet was a track where it is so fast that it messes with your mechanics,” Weber said. “We weren’t worried about her performance at Lincoln, but she did a great job at Air Force.”
Originally scheduled to compete at the Nebraska Tune-up, Weber decided to send his athletes to K-State instead.
Weber said the K-State Open would not be extremely competitive, since only about four full teams will be competing, with several schools bringing only some of their athletes.
The meet is closer. All of the Tigers will be able to compete at the meet, and the sparse competition will allow the runners to compete at the front of many of the packs.
However, the main reason for the change was that Nebraska has banked turns while K-State has flat turns that are similar to what the Tigers will see at the conference meet.
“I want to get them used to running those turns,” Weber said.