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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC track and field prepares for NCAA tournament

For some of North Carolina’s track and field team members, this weekend’s meets held at N.C. State and Georgia Tech were final opportunities to fine-tune technique for the first round of the NCAA tournament beginning May 29th. 

Conversely, for others, the two meets were the desperate last chances to qualify as a top-48 competitor in their respective event or uphold the spot they have rightfully earned in order to reach their goal of the regional meet.

Lizzy Whelan was one of eight Tar Heels that competed in Friday’s Wolfpack Last Chance. One year ago in Raleigh, Whelan set a personal record of 2:05.13 while running in the women’s 800, a race she competed in at the ACC Indoor and Outdoor Championships in 2013.

Taking first place for the second year in a row, Whelan finished just two seconds behind her previous time crossing the finish at 2:07.49.

“My main goal was just to have an aggressive race and see what I could do on the second lap,” said Whelan, who was not competing in the race for regional qualification.  

Whelan has the option to run the 1,500 at regionals but says she has not yet decided if she will.

In comparison to her previous season as a Tar Heel, the versatile runner has added distance to her list of events. 

“Last year I was strictly an 800 runner, and I really focused on speed,” Whelan said. “Whereas this year, because I am doing both the 800 and 1500, a lot of my training is endurance based.”

Friday’s overall winnings at the Georgia Tech Invitational, a larger two-day meet, revealed the high level of competition that was present from around the nation. The Tar Heels only took one first-place finish with Sarah Howard in the women’s shot put after throwing 16.26 meters.

But a considerable number of field events were consistent with fourth place finishes. Avana Story in the women’s hammer throw, Chris DiLorenzo in the men’s shot put, Austin Vegas in the men’s pole vault and Xenia Rahn in women’s long jump each took fourth place in their respective event.

The team continued onto Saturday’s events and a final chance for regional qualifications, but only three athletes reached at or above a third place finish. RJ Alowonle and Javonte Lipsey took second and third place, respectively, in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, and Caroline Brailsford tied for third place in the women’s pole vault.

Brailsford jumped 4.08 meters, a personal record, and said she has virtually secured her spot in the regional competition. Brailsford, alongside fellow teammates Cameron Overstreet and Amanda Benninghoff, will travel to Jacksonville, Fla. for the first round of the NCAA championships to compete against 45 other female pole vault qualifiers.

“For the vaulters, we wanted to qualify together,” Brailsford said, “It’s going to be really fun with all of us there.”

Brailsford has high aspirations for the upcoming weeks, as she said the coaching staff has been discussing the importance of bringing a big group to the first round and doing well there and deeper into the tournament.

“Not only do we want to make the final round of nationals, but we definitely want to score,” assistant coach Tatijana Jacobson said. “We want UNC track and field to be a name up there.”

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