NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
When: Wednesday through Saturday.
Where: Eugene, Ore.
CU qualifiers: Men — Pierce Murphy (10K); Morgan Pearson (5K); Adam Peterman (steeplechase). Women — Maddie Alm (1,500); Kaitlyn Benner (5K); Mackenzie Caldwell (10K); Erin Clark (steeplechase); Val Constien (steeplechase); Dani Jones (1,500).
University of Colorado track stars Dani Jones and Maddie Alm train together, and they even shared the same major at one point, but their relationship might not be what you expect.
Both Jones and Alm qualified for the 2016 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships that will be held in Eugene, Ore., on June 8-11.
Jones, a freshman from Phoenix, and Alm, a senior from Louisville (Monarch High School), are in different stages of their athletic careers, but they share the same goal as they continue to train for the 1,500 at the NCAA Championships.
You might expect that the upperclassman would have a lot to teach the younger teammate, but Alm explained that her relationship with Jones is not that of a master and apprentice.
"I think it kind of started off that way, and now I learn a lot from Dani because she's one of the top recruits, and she handles racing and pressure really well. Whereas I was a walk-on, and I am kind of in the place as she is her freshman year my senior year. So I'm kind of learning a lot of pre-race strategy from her," Alm said.
It is rare that a freshman qualifies for the national stage, but Jones is taking it all in stride.
"It's definitely one step at a time, think about the prelim first, think about making the final first, and then maybe think about scoring or being All-American, but you don't think about that until you get there, I guess," Jones said.
Alm, who also will be participating in her first championships, is tempering expectations.
"It's a pretty stacked field, so I'm really just hoping to go out there and stick myself in it, and PR, and hopefully get through to the final round and place as high as I can," Alm said.
Even though they said that they are taking things in stride, Jones and Alm's preliminary times suggest that they might make some noise at nationals. Jones finished with a 4:17.16 mark, and Alm was just one second behind her at 4:18.64.
Alm was part of the group that helped recruit Jones to Colorado.
"Her mile time in high school was incredible, so we knew coming in that she would be my new 1,500 buddy," Alm said.
Jones, who was also recruited by Michigan State, Georgetown, Duke and Indiana, explained that the coaching staff at Colorado, headed by Mark Wetmore, who is in his 21st season as head coach , was one of the main reasons for her coming to CU.
"So that was a big part of it, but I also enjoy my time with the girls. And the fact that the team is so young I knew that there was going to be a lot of future success in the program and it's really exciting to be a part of," Jones said.
Alm and Jones said they would draw on past experiences, especially the Pac-12 final, as they approach the NCAA finals.
"I think both of us in the Pac-12 final were surprised by the strategy that went in to the race, but I think that we both kind of drew a lot from that experience, as far as, you don't want to be caught up in the traffic, you don't want to be getting pushed around. You want to be in a good position with half the race to go," Alm said.
"We've had races that go out hard and end hard and there's no strategy it's just running a PR, and then races that it's all about winning and you're getting shoved and it's going out slow," Jones said.
Wetmore reflected on Alm and Jones' success at regional's.
"Coach Burroughs and I were surprised at how the races in Kansas unfolded. Both women took their races aggressively and early in imperfect conditions. We had discussed that with Dani, but Maddie seemed to come up with it on her own. We thought Maddie needed a nearly perfect race to advance in such a difficult field. She made it happen," Wetmore said.
"The 1,500 is possibly the most competitive event in the women's NCAA. Right now we are hoping to get them into the final. If that comes about, we will have 48 hours to restrategize," Wetmore said.
The presence of coach Wetmore is another important factor for Alm and Jones as they explained how his philosophy helps them to stay relaxed and perform well.
"(Coach) is very adamant on being businesslike, so he doesn't give a lot of
inspirational speeches. He doesn't hype up races to be more than they are. He kind of emphasizes do what you did to get here and you'll do what you need to do. I think it's great for keeping a calm mindset and not feeling a lot of pressure. Going into races it's very similar to when me and Dani work out in practice," Alm said.
"You can tell at meets that there's not a lot of programs like ours. It's just different. You see coaches walking around in all of their fancy new gear and talking up their athletes and stuff, and Mark's in this hat that he's probably had for like 40 years, and (assistant coach Billy Nelson's) in his cowboy hat, and its just completely different."
Wyatt Zetterholm: email@example.com