Wildcats Eyeing Big 12 Championship in Ames

Erica Twiss

Feb. 21, 2013

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State track and field will be taking on the rest of the conference this weekend as the Wildcats have their sights set on winning a Big 12 Conference Championship in Ames, Iowa. The Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championship begins Friday and the two-day meet will determine who is the champion on the men’s and women’s side.

Last season, the men finished fourth and the women’s team came away in seventh place. This year, Head Coach Cliff Rovelto is hoping for even better finishes for both teams. Entering the meet, there are four men’s teams and five women’s teams ranked in the Top 25 in the Big 12 Conference. K-State’s men are No. 26, but are among the favorites to win the championship due to the depth on the team.

One analogy Rovelto has used over the years is how many bullets the team has in referring to how many Wildcats can potentially score points in the championship meet. This year, is the biggest stash of metaphorical ammo than Rovelto has had in some time.

“One of the things from a team perspective for us that’s great this year  is we have a bullet almost in every event, and in some events high caliber bullets and multiple high caliber bullets,” Rovelto said. “So, I think that events like the high jump and the heptathlon are events where we can score in bunches. In virtually every other event we’re going to be reasonably competitive.”

The high jump is an event the men’s team will be looking to score many points with senior Erik Kynard ranked No. 1 in the nation so far this season and junior college transfer Zack Riley ranked No. 19 in the NCAA and No. 2 in the conference. No team has ever finished 1-2 in the men’s high jump at the Big 12 Championship indoors.

“Historically the Big 12, and even before the Big 12 the Big Eight has probably been the best high jump conference in the country for the last 25 years, probably,” Rovelto said. “There’s always been high caliber jumpers. There’s been some years where there has been not just one or two but sometimes three NCAA champions competing in the conference championship on the same day in the same year. It’s always been a quality meet with a lot of high quality individuals in that event. The fact that no one has gone 1-2 in the Big 12 speaks to how much quality there has been.”

Despite five teams ranked on the women’s side, Rovelto believes his women’s team has an opportunity to finish close behind them.

“I see the women’s team being somewhere in the middle this year. If we had some of the girls who are out with injuries right now, we have the potential to be a top three team at this meet,” Rovelto said. “The fact that there are very few seniors on this team speaks well for the future. We have a really good recruiting class coming in and we have a lot of really good young kids. The women’s team, a year from now, hopefully we’re talking along the same lines as the men’s team this year.”

Action begins Friday morning with the pentathlon and the first day of the heptathlon. The preliminary rounds of running events in addition to the 5,000 meters, distance medley relay and three field events are also slated for Friday. The meet will conclude Saturday.

Fans wanting to follow the action can get live results online at deltatiming.com. Updates will be posted to K-State’s live event Twitter handle @kstate_gameday with special updates on the main Twitter account @kstatesports. Fans can also follow the official hashtags #KStateTF and #Big12TF. The Big 12 Conference will also be posting on its Twitter handle @big12conference.

Adult admission tickets are only $7 for one day or for just $10 for a two-day pass. Youth tickets are available for $3 for one day or $5 for both. Tickets are available online at cyclones.com or at the gate at the Leid Recreational Center.

Events to Watch
•  Men’s High Jump
Erik Kynard is eyeing his third straight Big 12 crown in the event and the Wildcats had the No. 2 ranked jumper in the conference in junior Zack Riley. The pair has the opportunity to become the first teammates to finish 1-2 in the men’s high jump in Big 12 Championship history indoors.
•  Men’s Long Jump
The Wildcats have four athletes with the potential to score points in this event. K-State is currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the event, but Texas Tech’s Bryce Lamb is now healthy and is expected to jump and push for the title as well. This could be an event with major impact on the team scoring.
•  Men’s Heptathlon
Only two teams have ever taken the top two spots in the heptathlon, Texas last season and K-State went 1-2-3 in 1999. The Wildcats have the potential to accomplish this feat again with Devin Dick and Tomas Kirielius.
•  Women’s Pentathlon
K-State put two athletes on the podium in this event last year, and despite their graduation, could do it again in 2013. Merryl Mbeng is currently No. 2 in the conference and will challenge for the title, and Sophomore Joslyn Barnes is fifth. Erica Twiss and Brooke Rowland also have the potential to finish in the top eight for the Wildcats.
•  Men’s Pole Vault
Junior Kyle Wait is among the national leaders and claimed this event outdoors for the Wildcats. Texas Tech’s Kyal Meyers recently took the No. 1 spot in the conference from Wait by 1 centimeter. KU also has a strong group of vaulters to make this one of the deepest and most unpredictable events of the meet.
•  DMR
The Distance Medley Relay is one of the most exciting events in track and field and is only a championship event during indoors. The final event of Day 1 is always a site to see full of drama. It is an opportunity for distance runners to have more of an impact on the team scoring aspect a championship meet and is always a must-see event at elite meets like the Big 12 Conference Championship.
•  4x400 Relays
The final event of the meet could decide the championship on the men’s and women’s side. K-State’s men enter the meet ranked No. 3 in the conference and No. 20 in the nation in the event. The Wildcat women moved into the No. 4 spot last weekend and will be in the fast heat, which can help push the Wildcats to a faster time.

Wildcats Slip to No. 26 in Rankings
So far this season, the K-State men’s track and field team has been ranked among the nation’s best each week in the USTFCCCA Rankings, but this week the Wildcats fall just outside the Top 25 to No. 26 heading into this week’s Big 12 Championship.

This is the first time this season the men’s team is not ranked in the Top 25 after opening the year at No. 22 and climbing as high as No. 16.

Senior high jumper Erik Kynard has reclaimed the No. 1 spot in his event after jumping 2.33 meters at the KSU Open last weekend. The leap puts him atop the list again ahead of Indiana’s Derek Drouin and his best mark of the season at 2.32 meters.

The USTFCCCA rankings formula takes into account performances from athletes in each event and awards points based on their ranking in the event and on the strength of the performance. K-State’s men have six athletes ranked in a total of six events, plus one relay.

This week, Carlos Rodriguez is No. 28 in the 60 meters and is currently No. 8 in the 200 meters. Rodriguez also ran a leg of the 4x400 at the Bill Bergan Invitational that ranks No. 20. He along with Ifeanyi Otuonye, Jay-J Park and Chris Campbell ran 3:10.65 at the meet.

Otuonye fell out of the rankings in the long jump this week, but fellow newcomer Jharyl Bowry is No. 16 in the event. Juco transfer Zack Riley joins Kynard in the high jump at No. 19, and pole vaulter Kyle Wait is No. 15. Devin Dick completes the list at No. 29 in the heptathlon.

On the women’s side, combined events specialist Merryl Mbeng is ranked ninth after scoring 4,069 points in the pentathlon to finish second in her debut as a Wildcat in December at the Carol Robinson Winter Pentathlon. She is one of two Wildcats currently ranked in an event. She is joined by sophomore Erica Twiss in the pentathlon as well, and freshman Jasmine Gibbs is No. 34 in the 60 meters.

Big 12 Presence Felt in Top 25
The Big 12 Conference has long been a force in track and field, and again the league is among the best when examining the USTFCCCA Rankings. The league has a total of four men’s teams and five women’s teams ranked in the Top 25 heading into this week’s Big 12 Indoor Championship at Iowa State’s Leid Recreational Center.

Last week saw some big moves in the rankings for the conference and this week, the majority of the teams hold steady or remain in the same general range in the rankings as a total of three men’s teams and one women’s team are in the top 10.

Texas Tech is the highest ranked men’s team at No. 4 this week, climbing two spots, and Oklahoma State slips slightly to No. 6 after an impressive showing from the Cowboys’ distance runners so far this year. The Texas Longhorns climb one spot to No. 8 in the rankings. Oklahoma’s men are No. 21 this week with the Sooners also displaying a strong distance group. K-State falls just outside the Top 25 this week to No. 26.

The women are led by Kansas at No. 5, the Jayhawks did hold the No. 1 spot for one week earlier this season. Iowa State falls outside the top 10 to No. 12 this week with one of the best distance programs in the conference and nation, and Texas holds onto the No. 13 spot. Oklahoma State’s women also are a strong distance team and shot up the rankings 11 spots this week to No. 22. Baylor is the conference’s final Top 25 team at No. 25. The league has more strength and depth with Texas Tech’s women (26) and Oklahoma (29) both just outside the Top 25.

Only the SEC has more women’s teams ranked in the Top 25 with six, including No. 1 LSU. The SEC and Big Ten both have five men’s teams among the elite to lead the Big 12 by one. In total, the power conferences of the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 represent 17 of the men’s Top 25 and 17 of the women’s teams as well.

Kynard Adds Another Record
Senior high jumper Erik Kynard was in action at home again for the KSU Open and he put on another show for the home crowd as he tied his own school record of 2.33 meters (7-07.75) to also tie the Ahearn Field House facility record and set a new meet record for the KSU Open.

Kynard got the large crowd pumped for the meet and used their assistance as he asked for the slow clap that is so common among track and field, and those fans nearly helped Kynard clear a new collegiate record as he took three attempts at 2.38 meters (7-09.75). Kynard’s first and third attempts were very close to clearing and he just clipped the bar on his final attempt.

With his clearance of 2.33 meters, Kynard is again ranked No. 1 in the NCAA for this season. He was tied at 2.29 meters (7-06.00) with Indiana’s Derek Drouin and Mississippi’s Ricky Robertson, but Drouin jumped 2.32 meters (7-07.25) last week.

18 Victories for Wildcats at Home Finale
K-State hosted its final home meet of the indoor season and dominated the KSU Open with a total of 18 event wins. The Wildcats posted some of their best marks of the season in a number of areas and saw more than 12 personal records improved and 10 marks that rank in the top 10 in the Big 12 Conference this season heading into the conference championship meet.