Wildcats Look to Make Splash at NCAA Championship

Moritz Cleve

March 9, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Kansas State Wildcats are set to take a small group to the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships this weekend in College Station, Texas. K-State has seven Wildcats competing that looks to finish the season strong. Head coach Cliff Rovelto said all have seven of those Wildcats have the potential to finish in the top eight and score points for the team if they perform well. He also added the meet this year should be the strongest it ever has considering how difficult it was to qualify this season.

"At the beginning of the year, the people we have going are the people I thought had the greatest chance to be there," Rovelto said. "What I'm really, really impressed with is this year I felt the Big 12 was the best it's ever been, and with the NCAA, this year, what it took to get into the meet was the best it has ever been in almost every event. This year, it took 6.65 seconds just to get into the men's 60 meters. In every year, that has been good enough to score at the national championship meet. In the hurdles, 7.83 got you in last year. This year it took 7.75. If you look at the number of people between 7.75 and 7.83, there's 30 guys there."

K-State was fortunate enough to get a Wildcat in both of those events. Martynas Jurgilas will run the 60 meters for the men, and Jeffrey Julmis is ranked fifth in the 60 meter hurdles at 7.72 seconds. Another example of the improvement across the entire field is in the men's mile. Just five years ago, K-State's Christian Smith won the event at 4:12.75. This year the entire field qualified with times under four minutes.

Also competing for the men will be No. 1 high jumper Erik Kynard and heptathletes Mantas Silkauskas and Moritz Cleve. For the women, Nina Kokot will long jump and Ryann Krais will compete in the pentathlon, both are ranked in the top eight in their respective events.

"I'm in awe of it. I think it's great for our sport that the top end is improving so much. With around 16 people going in each event, if you look at who is there from 20 to 25 that don't get into the meet, everybody wanted those kids coming out of high school," Rovelto said. "There are some extremely good athletes not even going to this meet, that's how hard it is to get into the NCAA meet."

Rovelto said he believes his men can perform well enough to finish in the top 10 heading into the meet ranked No. 13. The USTFCCCA released its updated rankings Monday night after the NCAA announced the competition fields taking into account only the athletes participating at the meet. K-State jumped four spots to No. 13, and Rovelto said he believes that is an accurate measure, but his Wildcats still have to come out and perform.

"I think the men can place in the top 10 if we get tremendous performances out of all of them. If you get to 20 points you are in the top 10 and maybe the top five according to the history of this meet," Rovelto said. "If we have a great meet, we can do that. What we're capable of is a lot easier said than done. I don't take anything for granted in this sport. Our athletes still have to go out there and do what we know they're capable of doing."

One event to keep an eye on will be the men's heptathlon where Cleve finished fifth two years ago and Silkauskas 14th last season. A total of 13 of the 16 athletes in the heptathlon posted NCAA automatic qualifying marks of at least 5,675 points with the other three less than five points off the mark. Silkauskas and Cleve come in ranked sixth and 10th, respectively. Rovelto said the heptathlon should be exciting to watch down to the final event.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it took 5,700 points to score in the heptathlon. I think the depth in the heptathlon is remarkable," Rovelto said. "It will come down to the final event where in the 1,000 meters a couple of seconds will make the difference. It will an unbelievably competitive competition. We've had guys finish in the top eight with 5,500 points in the past."

Rovelto believes both K-State women competing can find their way to the podium when it is all said and done and looks forward to seeing them compete.

"I have been extremely impressed with Nina after everything she has gone through in her career here," Rovelto said. "Physically, she looks the best she ever has in all her specs, and I think there is no question she can jump far enough to make the final and can be right in the thick of things if she jumps her best. Ryann has been getting sharper in practice and is in great shape, so the 800 meters will be good for her. I think she's in position to be in the top five or six with a strong meet. She has a lot of upside to her."

Considering the difficulty to qualify for the meet, on the men's side 15 schools are bringing more athletes to the competition than K-State, led by LSU's 15. From a league perspective, the Big 12 Conference has the most female athletes competing this weekend and ranks second on the men's side behind the SEC.

Fans can watch the action live from the Gilliam Indoor Track and Field Stadium online at espn3.com from 3-7:40 p.m. Central on Friday and Saturday from 3-6:50 p.m. The remainder of the event will be streamed online at ncaa.com. ESPN2 will televise a tape delayed broadcast of the meet at 2:30 p.m. March 16. Reserved tickets to the two-day meet are available for $45 and $35 and general admission is just $25. For those unable to attend in person live results will be at flashresults.com. K-State fans can keep up with the action on Twitter as well with updates throughout the two days of action on K-State's Twitter feed @kstatesports. Action begins Friday with the pentathlon and heptathlon at 10 a.m. Kokot is slated to jump at 4:15 p.m. Friday with Julmis running shortly after at 4:45 and Jurgilas at 5:45. Saturday will start with the final three events of the heptathlon at noon. Kynard will jump at 4:15 p.m. and running finals set for later in the afternoon.

K-State Men Ranked Among Nation's Elite
The Kansas State men remain ranked in the latest USTFCCCA Rankings climbing four spots to No. 13 this week heading into the NCAA Championship. The rankings leading into the meet take into account only athletes participating at the NCAA meet, and five Wildcats make the cut. Erik Kynard continues to lead the way as the No. 1 high jumper in the nation. Jeffrey Julmis bounds up the hurdles list to No. 5 this week after breaking the school record last week at 7.72 seconds. Two sprinters make the list with Martynas Jurgilas ranking 14th in the 60 meter dash at 6.65 seconds. K-State boasts two Wildcats in the heptathlon - the only school to do so -- with Mantas Silkauskas ranked sixth and Moritz Cleve standing 10th.

The women's squad falls to No. 44 this week with just two Wildcats competing at the meet. Both, however, pose a good chance to score for the Wildcats with Nina Kokot ranked sixth in the long jump and Ryann Krais eighth in the pentathlon.

The Big 12 Conference remains one of the nation's top leagues for track and field with six men's and women's teams in the Top 25. Texas A&M leads the way for the men at No. 4 followed by Texas No. 9, and Nebraska (10) give the league three teams in the Top 10. The SEC also has three in the Top 10. Oklahoma (15) and Texas Tech (25) round out the remaining Big 12 teams ranked. Kansas (30) and Baylor (32) are just outside the Top 25.

On the women's side it is much the same story. Six Big 12 teams are in the Top 25 with Texas standing at No. 3 and Texas A&M close behind at No. 5. Then the grouping of Oklahoma (13), Nebraska (14) and Baylor (16) puts five of the Big 12's ranked team in the top 16. Texas Tech (23) rounds out the Big 12 teams. K-State's women drop to No. 44 this week standing eighth in the league with Iowa State at No. 40.

Julmis Speeds to School Record
Hurdler Jeffrey Julmis was the only Wildcat to compete at a last chance meet looking to improve his standing in the 60 meter hurdles and improve his chance of selection to the field for the NCAA Championship. He more than succeeded.

Julmis ran his way to the win at the Arkansas Final Qualifier with his time of 7.72 seconds. The time is a new personal record for him improving on his previous best of 7.78 set at the Big 12 Championship. The time passes Mantas Silkauskas at 7.74 seconds for the new K-State top spot. The time moved Julmis from a borderline selection to the field of 16 to an assured spot ranking fifth in the nation after his win in Arkansas.

Awards Add Up for Kynard
The awards continue to come in for high jumper Erik Kynard this season this time receiving Midwest Region Field Athlete of the Year from the USTFCCCA. Kynard was recognized for his undefeated season heading into the NCAA Indoor Championship winning all five of his competitions. Kynard's leap of 7-07.75 at the Tyson Invitational was the third highest in collegiate history.

Kynard Added to Bowerman Watch List
It is considered the Heisman Trophy of track and field recognizing the top male and female collegiate athletes. Following his win at the Big 12 Indoor Championship, sophomore high jumper Erik Kynard was added to the watch list for the Bowerman.

The Bowerman is named in honor of former University of Oregon head coach Bill Bowerman. In addition to his history of success at Oregon, he was instrumental in helping establish the system of autonomous federations to control individual sports in the United States today. Bowerman was a cofounder of Nike and is most recognized within the company for his creation of the waffle sole by pouring rubber on a waffle iron.

The watch list will be updated twice a month through the end of the outdoor season with finalists announced on July 13.

Big 12 High Jump Title Returns to K-State
Sophomore high jumper Erik Kynard won his first conference title by jumping 7-04.25 at the Big 12 Indoor Championship two weeks ago. The jump was two bars higher than any competitor and highlighted the Wildcats' 8th-place finish for the men.

K-State scored a total of 42.5 points over the two days of action and again making a strong showing in the men's heptathlon. This year Mantas Silkauskas finished third with his personal best score of 5,751 points, and Moritz Cleve claimed fourth with 5,698 points. The competition was extremely tight throughout the heptathlon with the top four finishers all posting NCAA automatic qualifying marks. Only one other major conference had multiple heptathletes score auto marks in their respective conference championship meets with the ACC having two.

The Wildcats also surprised the field with their impressive second-place showing in the men's distance medley relay. The Wildcats led the way throughout most of the race with Kyle Hanson running a strong first leg. Ben Love kept the Wildcats ahead with his leg, and Jacob Davies ran hard during his 800 meters. Adam Porter held the lead for K-State until the final stretch in what was one of the most exciting races of the entire Big 12 meet.

Jeffrey Julmis finished third in the 60 meter hurdles with his time of 7.78 seconds, while Sam James also claimed third in the men's 800 with his new personal best time of 1:50.16.

The K-State women finished ninth with their point total of 35 points led by Ryann Krais is the pentathlon. Krais blew past the field in the 800 meters winning her heat by 15 seconds and the event by nearly 10 seconds to elevate herself to second place with 4,009 points. Nina Kokot performed well again at the conference meet finishing third in the long jump. Also finishing third in her event was Boglarka Bozzay in the 1,000 meters. Denise Baker ended her impressive season with a sixth-place finish in the 60 meter hurdles.

In keeping with K-State's success in distance events at the Big 12 meet, Meghan Heuer claimed sixth in the mile as Martina Tresch finished fifth in the 3,000 meters. Finally, K-State had multiple women score in the weight throw for at least the seventh straight year as Ali Pistora and Chelsie Bonds finished sixth and seventh.

Kynard Flies to Athlete of the Week, Record
Sophomore high jumper Erik Kynard won the special invitation high jump competition at the Tyson Invitational this weekend with a new school record jump of 7-07.75 (2.33m) besting the field by two bars to be named Big 12 Athlete of the Week. The win was the fourth straight for Kynard this season, which ranks as the longest current high jump streak in the nation. In continuing his streak he snapped the 10-meet winning streak of NCAA defending champion Derek Drouin of Indiana.

Not only was Kynard's jump a school record; it places him first in the NCAA for the season and fifth in the world. The mark of 7-07.75 also is third in collegiate history. Only two other collegians have jumped higher than Kynard during the indoor season with both marks occurring before he was born in 1991.

Going Long
Junior Nina Kokot has improved upon her own school record in the women's long jump leaping an impressive 21-01.25. Kokot made the jump to finish fourth in a special invitational competition at the Tyson Invitational last week where she was the top finishing collegiate in the field. The native of Slovenia added 2.25 inches to her record that she set last season at the Big 12 Championship. She has leapt over 20 feet in two of her three competitions this season and currently ranks third in the NCAA and second in the Big 12 for her jump at the Tyson Invitational.

He's the Man-Tas
Junior heptathlete Mantas Silkauskas has used his speed to score big points in the combined events throughout his career, and now he's using that speed to set records. Silkauskas has twice set the school record this season in the 60 meter hurdles, most recently at the Tyson Invitational. He crossed the line in 7.74 seconds in the semifinals to advance to the final round shaving six-hundredths of a second off the K-State record he tied earlier in the season.

Silkauskas ran 7.80 seconds to win the Wildcat Invitational. Silkauskas in January. His time then also set a meet record and tied his own Ahearn Field House facility record set in December during the Carol Robinson Winter Pentathlon when he competed unattached. He currently ranks seventh in the NCAA in the hurdles and second in the Big 12 Conference.

Sprinters Fly at Husker Invite
K-State came away with a number of wins and personal records at the Husker Invitational from its sprinters. Martynas Jurgilas ran away from the competition in the men's 60 meter dash final with an impressive 6.65 seconds to rank him 13th in the nation. More impressive for Jurgilas was him running the time after two false starts in the field.

Jeffrey Julmis ran his way to another win and PR in the 60 meter hurdles. Julmis crossed the line in 7.81 seconds for the win. Denise Baker posted another fast time in the women's hurdles finishing second in a tight race with her time of 8.42 seconds. She cut .04 seconds off her PR and still remains second in school history.

Kynard Soars to School Record
Sophomore high jumper Erik Kynard ended up head-to-head with Ricky Robertson from Ole Miss at the Big 12-SEC Challenge and came away the winner in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Robertson surpassed Kynard for the top spot on the NCAA list a week prior to the two meeting up in College Station, Texas, and the pair made up the final two competitors standing. Kynard cleared 7-06.00 on his final attempt to win the event and reclaim the No. 1 spot while also tying the K-State school record.

Wildcats Help Big 12 Down SEC
The Kansas State track and field teams joined forces with three fellow members of the Big 12 Conference to take on four teams from the SEC in a conference vs. conference meet in College Station, Texas, with the Big 12 coming away the victor. The Big 12 women dominated the meet for a 441.50-257-50 win over the SEC. The men's competition was considerably closer with the Big 12 edging out the win 363-312.

During the two days of action, K-State had a handful of impressive performances in a number of different events. Ryann Krais won the women's pentathlon with a point total of 4,021 points. The mark ranks fifth in school history and was just 20 points off her personal best set during her two years at UCLA. She shattered her personal record in the 800 meters by four seconds to help boost her score. In distance events, the women's team saw strong showings from Martina Tresch finishing fourth in the 3,000M with a personal best and Sydney Messick dominating the field by more than 40 seconds to win the 5,000M. Boglarka Bozzay won the women's mile as well with a personal best that ranks sixth in school history.