The Badger men have placed seven athletes in next week’s NCAA Outdoor Championships, including a pair of returning All-Americans and four first-time qualifiers.
Juniors Jack Bolas and Craig Miller are both title threats in the 1,500 meters, coming off third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively, at last year’s national meet. Bolas is ranked fourth entering this year’s NCAA championships, at 3:37.64, while Miller stands fifth at 3:37.81.
After going 1-2 in the event at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, Miller finished runner-up at the NCAA Mideast Regional last weekend to automatically qualify for the national meet, while Bolas was seventh and earned an at-large spot in the championships.
On the flip side of the experience coin are sophomores Zach Beth, Mickey DeFilippo and Robert Dehn, as well as junior Nate Larkin. Each will make their first NCAA outdoor championships appearance next week in Fayetteville.
Here’s what to watch for in each event:
800 Meters - Zach Beth
Beth makes his first NCAA outdoor appearance after qualifying for the national indoor championships in March. He finished runner-up at the NCAA Mideast Regional and seems to be peaking at the right time, as he clocked two of the three fastest times of his career on back-to-back runs at the regional meet. That includes the personal-best 1:48.63 he ran in the final at Louisville, which is the fastest time by a Big Ten runner this year.
Texas senior Tevan Everett, fresh off Big 12 and Midwest Regional titles, leads the pack heading into the championships with a national-leading time of 1:47.39. Each of the top six qualifiers have clocked in below the 1:48 mark this season.
The field includes the last two NCAA indoor champions – Northern Iowa’s Tyler Mulder and Oregon’s Andrew Wheating – but not defending outdoor 800 champion Jacob Hernandez, who is sidelined by injury. Wheating was a member of the U.S. team at last year’s Beijing Olympics, as well.
Beth enters the meet ranked 18th, but few races are harder to predict than the 800 and qualifying for the final is certainly something he is capable of.
1,500 Meters – Jack Bolas and Craig Miller
Bolas and Miller were part of one of the most memorable finishes at last year’s NCAA outdoor meet, with Bolas taking third to Northern Iowa’s Dorian Ulrey by one thousandth of a second and Miller finishing just behind in fourth.
They enter this year’s championships having already run as part of the fastest collegiate 1,500 of the year – the race at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on May 2 that produced the NCAA’s five fastest times.
The only competitors who rank ahead of Bolas and Miller heading into the national meet are the runners who finished ahead of them on that night at Stanford. Freshman Matthew Centrowitz of Oregon, who won the West Regional last week, is the national leader at 3:36.92.
Just behind is senior Lee Emanuel of New Mexico (3:37.25), who held off Miller to win the NCAA indoor mile title in March, followed by senior Garrett Heath of Stanford (3:37.57).
The field remains loaded after Bolas and Miller, who rank fourth and fifth, as Michael Coe of Cal is sixth at 3:37.98. He’s followed by the other three regional champions in freshman phenom German Fernandez of Oklahoma State (Midwest Region), freshman David McCarthy of Providence (East) and Ulrey, who now runs for Arkansas and held off Miller to win the Mideast Region title last week.
Defending champion Leonel Manzano of Texas saw his eligibility expire after last year’s NCAA championships, but each of the top 16 athletes in the field have run under the 3:42 threshold this season.
Miller will be racing for the sixth All-America award of his career. If he’s successful, Miller would become the eighth athlete in UW history to rack up that many All-America citations. Only two Badgers – Chris Solinsky and Matt Tegenkamp – have won more than six.
3,000-Meter Steeplechase – Ryan Gasper
Gasper is in the national meet for the second-consecutive season and looks to improve on his 23rd-place finish at last year’s championships. He enters the NCAAs ranked 10th with the career-best time of 8:43.42 he posted at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on May 2.
After cruising to his second straight Big Ten title in the steeplechase two weeks earlier, Gasper was not as dominant on his way to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Mideast Regional last weekend. Still, the performance in a very fast race earned him an automatic spot in the national meet.
Jake Morse of Texas won the Midwest Regional with a national-leading time of 8:34.57, while Louisville’s Corey Thorne clocked in at 8:36.98 to win the Mideast Regional title and enters the championships ranked second.
East Regional champion Kyle Heath of Syracuse is ranked fifth, while West Regional champion Richard Nelson of BYU is only 15th-fastest in the 25-man field.
Gasper seeks his first All-America finish.
110-Meter Hurdles – Nate Larkin
An agonizingly-close sixth-place finish at the Mideast Regional forced Larkin to play the waiting game until the NCAA released its at-large selections Tuesday, but the junior is headed to his first national outdoor meet.
Larkin also qualified for NCAA indoor championships in the 60-meter hurdles and enters the outdoor championships ranked 24th at 13.89 seconds. He ran the fastest wind-legal time of his career – 14.00 – to earn that sixth-place finish at regionals and is one of three Big Ten competitors in the field.
Defending champion Jason Richardson of South Carolina is the national leader at 13.29 and finished second at the East Regional to Bethune-Cookman’s Ronnie Ash, who is ranked second in the country at 13.42.
Midwest Regional champion Kirkland Thornton of Nebraska is ranked third at 13.47, while Stanford’s Myles Bradley is sixth after winning the West Regional title. Barrett Nugent of LSU won the Mideast Regional and is ranked 12th at 13.66.
Larkin faces an uphill battle, but the Badgers have not placed in the 110 hurdles at the national meet since Reggie Torian won the NCAA title in 1997.
Pole Vault – Mickey DeFilippo
DeFilippo will have his hands full with a loaded field in the vault, entering the national meet ranked 23rd with his personal-best clearance of 17-1 3/4 from last month’s Big Ten championships.
A first-time NCAA qualifier after taking third at the Mideast Regional meet, DeFilippo has cleared at least 16-6 3/4 in each of his nine competitions this year, including three vaults over the 17-foot mark. He became the eighth vaulter in school history to cross the 17-foot threshold on April 18.
Jason Colwick of Rice is the national leader in the vault, at 18-9 1/4, and won the Midwest Regional last weekend to follow up his indoor NCAA title from March.
West Regional champion Scott Roth of Washington is ranked second at 18-4 1/2, while defending NCAA champion Maston Wallace of Texas (18-2 3/4) and Yavgeniy Olhovsky (18-0) of Virginia Tech also have gone over 18 feet his year.
DeFilippo is fourth among the Big Ten vaulters in the field.
Javelin – Robert Dehn
Dehn has enjoyed a breakout season and is at the top of his game after winning the Mideast Regional championship last weekend with a personal-best throw of 231 feet, 10 inches.
The performance automatically qualified him for his first NCAA championships and broke the Badgers’ school record by eight inches in the process.
Dehn enters the national meet ranked 12th, and an All-America finish is certainly not out of reach considering how well he has thrown of late. Before winning the regional title, Dehn was runner-up at the Big Ten championships.
Defending champion Chris Hill is ranked third entering the national meet at 265-10 and won the East Regional last weekend, while Oregon’s Cyrus Hostetler is the national leader and West Regional champion with a best mark of 272-10. Corey White of USC ranks third at 272-2.
The Badgers have produced three All-Americans in the javelin, but none since Bob Ryan won the national title in 1944.