With three final bids secured on the final day of the NCAA West First Round in Sacramento, California, this past weekend, Nebraska is sending 20 qualifiers to the NCAA Track & Field Championships next week. Those 20 entries are the most the Huskers have sent to the NCAA final meet since qualifying 21 in 2014.
Twelve of those 20 entries are men, tying Nebraska’s men’s team for the fifth most qualifiers in the country with Florida. These accomplishments come at the culmination of Justin St. Clair’s first season as head coach. He previously served as assistant and interim head coach upon the retirement of legendary Nebraska track coach Gary Peppin.
“We’re trying to win Big Ten Championships, we’re trying to win at everything,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said last week on radio after the Husker men won the Big Ten Championship. “To see Justin St. Clair, a young coach, named (Big Ten) Coach of the Year. I know Justin would say it’s the entire coaching staff, but I am really, really proud of that track and field program and I think they are endemic of the type of broad-based success the University of Nebraska can and should be having on a consistent basis.”
Nebraska’s 4×100 men’s relay team garnered headlines on the third day of competition. The team of Brithton Senior, Kavian Kerr, Lorenzo Paissan and Garrett Kaalund ran the ring in 39.03 seconds to qualify for the NCAA Championships. That was the third-fastest time of the meet and broke a 18-year old school record of 39.19. That Husker relay team entered the race seeded 21 out of 24. The only other Nebraska runner to qualify for the NCAA Championships was Lincoln High graduate Darius Luff. He ran the 110 hurdles in 13.44, the second-best time of the meet. Luff also holds the third-best time in the country this season with a 13.32 earlier this spring.
Maxwell Otterdahl and Jonah Wilson both qualified in shot put and discus. Both threw 64 feet, 9.25 inches in the shot put to finish in the top 12 of the regional meet and qualify for nationals. Otterdahl threw a season-best 193 feet, 7 inches in the discus, giving him the eighth-best mark in school history. Wilson, meanwhile, threw 189 feet, 7 inches, his best of the season. Arthur Petersen and Dash Sirmon earned gold and silver, respectively, in the javelin to qualify for the national meet. Peterson, the Danish native transfer from Texas-Arlington, threw 247 feet, 7 inches. Sirmon’s second-place heave of 245 feet, 6 inches, sent him through on the first day of competition.
Kansas natives Michael Hoffer and Tyus Wilson also qualified in the high jump for the Huskers following 7-feet, 0.25-inch jumps. Hoffer qualified for the second time in his career and Wilson comes off an indoor track season where he jumped 7 feet, 0.5 inches. Till Steinforth qualified in the long jump and decathlon. The native German finished sixth in the long jump with a leap of 25 feet, 3.5 inches. He punched his ticket in the decathlon after breaking the school record in the heptathlon (6,196) during the winter season.
Eight members of Nebraska’s women’s track team qualified after various strong showings. Maddie Harris and Rhema Otabor both punched their tickets in the javelin, having finished inside the top 12. Harris finished second at the meet with 186-feet, 1-inch throw while Otabor threw 170 feet, 11 inches. Harris and Otabor are ranked first and second in the nation, respectively, this spring season. Lee’s Summit North graduate Harris was the runner-up at last year’s NCAA Championships, a Huskers’ best finish there since 2006. Otabor, a transfer from Florida International and native of the Bahamas, finished fourth in the nation last season.
Taylor Latimer and Alexina Johannson qualified for the NCAA Championships in shot put. Johannson is the nation’s leader in shot put and finished second at regionals with a 61-foot, 3.5-inch throw. Latimer posted a season-best throw of 57 feet, 2.25 inches at regionals—the No. 4 mark in school history.
In total, four Husker jumpers qualified in the women’s field. Madison Yerigan and Jenna Rogers qualified in the high jump, Velecia Williams qualified in the long jump and Rhianna Phipps qualified in the triple jump. Rogers, a three-time first-team All-American and three-time conference champion, qualified with a 6-foot, 0.75-inch leap. Yerigan posted a personal-best jump of 5 feet, 11.5 inches to qualify for the national meet for the first time. She recently finished third at the Big Ten Conference Championships with her previous person best. Williams posted a season-best leap of 20 feet, 10.75 inches to qualify for the second straight year, having competed at Kansas State last season. Phipps posted a 43-foot, 10.5-inch leap on her final attempt to qualify for nationals. She’s also qualified previously while attending Kansas State.
Of potential note, this is where the recent partnership with Nebraska’s football team could also benefit the track team. Incoming 2023 signings Malachi Coleman, Jaylen Lloyd, Brice Turner and Jeremiah Charles are all noted track stars. Coleman sat out the vast majority of the 2023 season with a hamstring injury but ran a personal best 10.46 in the 100 and 21.31 in the 200 in 2022. Lloyd ran a 10.47 in the 100, jumped 24 feet, 2.75 inches in the long jump and 48 feet, 8 inches in the triple jump this spring. Turner ran a 10.25 100 and 21.04 200 last spring. Charles recently earned silver in the triple jump with a 49-foot, 2.5-inch leap at the Texas State Championships.