Utah State’s track & field program will be represented by at least two athletes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Sindri Gudmundsson and Cierra Simmons-Mecham made sure of that.
For the second straight year, both Aggies punched their ticket to nationals in their signature event. For the third time in as many years, Gudmundsson was the gold medalist in the men’s javelin at the NCAA West Preliminary Championships.
The redshirt junior won the event with a heave of 241 feet, 9 inches, Friday afternoon at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California. Later in the evening, Simmons-Mecham secured her spot to nationals by comfortably placing third in the second of three heats of the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“It’s a pretty cool thing, especially since this year has been a little bit of a struggle,” USU head coach Matt Ingebritsen said of Gudmundsson. “We’ve had to overcome a lot, and it’s great to see him come out here and just do exactly what we planned to do, which was come out, take a throw, and get ourselves through, but it’s also pretty cool to see him get another win at the first round meet, too. I’m really proud of him. I know this year has been tough on him, but he has definitely persevered, and he has been able to train through and deal with a lot.”
Gudmundsson, a two-time first-team All-American and three-time Mountain West champion, has been hampered this spring by an injury and has only competed twice. The native of Kopavogur, Iceland, only needed one throw to claim the conference title in the javelin two weeks ago and repeated the same feat Friday. Gudmundsson, USU’s record-holder in the event, decided to forego his final two attempts after it was obvious he was going to advance to nationals — a meet that will take place from June 5-8 in Austin, Texas.
“It was all right,” Gudmundsson said. “... Not the throw I wanted, but I made it. I did what I needed to do today, so I got the job done today, so I’m happy with it. It’s good. I feel like there aren’t a lot of four-time All-Americans, but I feel like next year, I’m going to be able to be an All-American again, so that’s a privilege. I feel like I was a lot better today than I was at conference injury-wise, so I’m just excited to go back.
“Texas is really fun even though it’s really humid. My freshman year, we had first rounds there, and that was really fun and also Texas Relays last year. It’s definitely a place I like to throw at.”
Simmons-Mecham, a first-team All-American in the 3,000 steeplechase a year ago, needed to finish in the top three of her heat to ensure her spot in Austin, and she did exactly that. The senior was in the No. 3 position after every lap and completed the race in 9 minutes, 59.22 seconds. The native of Soda Springs, Idaho, increased her lead over the athlete who finished fourth in every lap except for the bell lap.
“She ran in control,” USU distance coach Artie Gulden said of program record-holder in the event. “She was able to hold back. The race plan that we gave her was that if the top girl went out really hard that (Cierra) would hang back a little bit. No need to try and beat everybody today. Just make sure you get in the top three, and that’s what she did. And (she) ran a fairly controlled race and put herself in good position, and got the job done.”
It ended up being the most competitive women’s steeplechase field in the history of the meet as all 12 national qualifiers broke the 10-minute barrier.
“The field (at nationals) is going to be really strong,” Gulden said. “A lot of girls ran well here tonight and a lot of girls ran well in the East region, so we’ll see what happens in two weeks. It will be great and I’m very proud of her that she’s going to get to race there.”
Another athlete who had a memorable day was former Sky View standout Brenna Porter, who will represent BYU at the NCAA Championships in the 400 hurdles for the second year in a row. The senior was the runner-up in her heat and finished with the fourth-fastest time of the meet — a 56.98, which shaved two-hundredths of a second off her school record.
Simmons-Mecham and Gudmundsson were two of nine Aggies who showcased their talents on Day 2 of the meet. USU’s next highest placer was Kyle Morris, who finished 26th out of 48 competitors in the javelin. The junior, who was seeded 22nd, recorded a mark of 208-2.
The Aggies were also represented by a pair of athletes in the men’s steeplechase and women’s discus.
Senior Brenn Flint placed 29th in the discus (162-3), while junior Michala Zilkey was 46th (150-11). Flint entered the meet as the 23rd seed, while Zilkey was seeded 41st.
Stokton Smith and Adam Hendrickson both broke seed for the Aggies in the steeplechase — Hendrickson by eight spots. Smith, a sophomore who was seeded 32nd, clocked in at 8:58.94, which was good enough for the No. 28 position. Hendrickson, a senior and former Box Elder star, completed the race in 9:10.40, which put him in the No. 35 spot.
USU sophomore Talie Bonds finished with the 39th-best time in the 100 hurdles (13.83). Bonds was the 36th seed.
Aggie sophomore Christian Sonnenberg improved on his seed position by eight as he placed 39th in the discus with a mark of 169-4. There was a great deal of parity in the men’s discus field as only 13 feet separated those who finished from eighth through 40th.
BYU sophomore Michael Bluth, who spent his freshman season at USU, barely missed out on the final berth to nationals in an extremely deep 400 field. Bluth established a new personal record with a time of 46.01, which was .04 slower than the sprinter who secured the final at-large bid.
Seven Aggies will be in action on the third and final day of competition. Flint has the opportunity to qualify for nationals in back-to-back-to-back years in the shot put.
USU will be represented by Leaugen Fray, Hunter Simonsen and Chandler Obray in the high jump, Kyle Brost in the triple jump and Josh Barclay and Morris in the shot put. Zilkey, Morris and Flint are the lone Aggies who qualified for this meet in two events.