Whittni Orton and Rory Linkletter headline the squad of BYU athletes competing in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on Friday, March 9, in College Station, Texas.
“This is a battle of the best of the best and you have to scrap to score even one point,” said head coach Ed Eyestone. “I think everyone is going into this meet with the mindset of scoring. If things break the right way, I think we could score very high.”
The Cougars will have four athletes from the men’s team and potentially six athletes from the women’s team competing in events on Friday.
Linkletter, Daniel Carney and Connor McMillan will represent BYU in the men’s 5,000m. Linkletter (13:41.01) and Carney (13:41.32) both qualified after breaking the previous school record held by Olympian Jared Ward. McMillan later qualified after winning the 5,000m at the MPSF Championships (13:46.71).
“It is not common to have three athletes in one event, and I like our odds for all three to finish in the top eight,” Eyestone said. “You have to have speed at the end to finish in the top three. I think Rory has the wheels to close fast enough to do just that, and Daniel is not that far behind him.”
Abraham Alvarado will compete in the 800m prelims for the Cougars and needs to have a top-eight finish to qualify for the 800m finals on Saturday. He ran his qualifying time at the Iowa State Classic (1:47.98) even after being tripped up on the final stretch. Eyestone has been impressed with Alvarado’s recent improvement in endurance and expects him to race competitively enough to finish in the top six in the finals.
Orton will compete for BYU in the women’s mile prelims after qualifying with a school-record time of 4:34.88. She also ran on the women’s DMR team that qualified for the NCAA Championships, but she is not eligible to compete on the DMR team if she qualifies for the mile finals.
“Whittni is currently ranked in the top six in the mile and the goal for her is to finish higher than that,” said Eyestone. “She has had such a good season I could see her doing that.”
The women’s DMR team will consist of Ashleigh Warner, Brenna Porter, Kirsti Rush-Briggs and Madelyn Dickson as the alternate for Orton. Dickson is likely to race unless Orton does not qualify for the mile finals and the coaching staff decides to make a switch. The team ran an 11:01.77 at the Alex Wilson Invitational to qualify with the 11th-best time in the country. Eyestone noted that each athlete brings a sense of tenacity that he believes can translate into a top-eight finish.
Andrea Stapleton-Johnson is the lone field athlete competing for the Cougars and will compete in the high jump at the NCAA Indoor Championships for the second year in a row. She finished 13th overall in last year’s championships and qualified this year with a jump of 1.83m.
“One of the strengths Andrea has going for her is that she has been to the big dance before,” said Eyestone. “I think she will have a great chance at scoring if she can jump clean on the lower heights and go into the higher jumps with no misses.”
Eyestone stated that the overall goals for the Cougars are for both the men’s and women’s teams to score well enough to finish in the top 20 and for every athlete to receive All-American First-Team honors. Athletes score for the team and qualify to be an All-American by finishing with one of the top-eight marks in their respective events.
Orton will be the first BYU athlete to compete on Friday at 5:50 p.m. CST. Both days of the NCAA Indoor Championships will be streamed online on ESPN3, and a schedule of the meet can be found on the NCAA website.
Follow BYU track and field on Twitter @BYUTFXC to keep up with the action.