NORMAN, Okla. – For Coach Jim VanHootegem and his Sooner track and field teams, the time is now for the Big 12 Outdoor Championships.
Heading into his first Big 12 Outdoor Championship with OU, VanHootegem points out that this weekend marks the point of the year where the quality of the season, as a whole, really begins to show.
“People are at the point where we want to see what the accumulation of their season is,” said VanHootegem. “If you have had a pretty good season, you can pull together and step up at this time. If you have already had a really good season, now it is about consistency.
“I think the team has prepared well. It is always hard to be 100 percent healthy, but I think that we are healthy enough to really compete.”
VanHootegem describes that focus is a key part of finishing an outdoor season strong.
“Collegiate track is a long season. Some of getting better just has to do with keeping focus. There are some people who are doing fine with that, and then there are some people who are still young. They have not been able to figure out how to hold that focus throughout the year. Hopefully, being done with final examinations and all of that, some people can get their focus back.”
The Sooners are going to need that focus heading into the weekend. The Big 12 boasts four men’s programs that are ranked in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s top 25 -- Oklahoma State fifth, Texas Tech sixth, Texas 10th and Baylor 13th. The conference also has four women’s programs in the top 25 with Texas at No. 2, Baylor at 14, Kansas at No. 16 and Kansas State in 21st.
“I think that we are prepared to take on good competition,” VanHootegem said. “We have seen a variety of competition as well as a variety of conditions. We have had opportunities to see some different things and still be successful.”
VanHootegem uses junior thrower Alex Morgan as an example of how the team has been able to compete at a high level regardless of competition or conditions.
“Alex has probably had the most consistent season of anybody on the team,” VanHootegem explained. “We have never had one week where we thought the wind conditions were too much for her to have a quality performance. She has been able get things done whatever the conditions or whoever the competition may be.”
While the Sooners are prepared to compete in any condition, the forecast predicts that the weather in Lubbock will be in the student-athletes’ favor.
“It looks like it is going to be pretty nice weather starting off the weekend. By Sunday, it is actually going to be quite warm,” VanHootegem said. “I am not sure about winds or anything like that, but everything looks nice. They are going to do a good job hosting the meet and they have a great facility. I am really excited about this venue and what looks to be good conditions. I think we are going to see some big performances.”
If pre-meet performances are any indication, there could be several Sooners who are set to deliver those big performances.
With all performances reported of meets through May 10, 12 Sooners are ranked in the top three of the Big 12 for their performances throughout the 2014 outdoor track and field season. Four of those OU athletes – Nolan Hay (men’s long jump), Hayden McClain (men’s triple jump), Tyler Renton (men’s javelin) and Avione Allgood (women’s javelin) sit at the top of their events with the best mark posted this season.
Several Sooners are ranked in the top 10 of multiple events, including Allgood, who also is ranked in the shot put, and McClain, who is ranked in the long jump as well. Other multiple ranked Sooners include Austin Perry (shot put, hammer); Brandon Doughty (steeplechase, 5,000 and 1,500); Alex Deir (steeplechase and 1,500); and Abbabiya Simbassa (5,000 and 10,000).
Oklahoma also returns 16 student-athletes who scored at last year’s Big 12 Championships. The Sooners’ lone returning champion from last year is Allgood, who won the javelin at the 2013 meet on her way to earning All-America honors a month later.
“Both the men and women in the javelin are huge for us,” VanHootegem said. “We have three people ranked in the top five in the conference for both men and women. Those are big events. We also did really well in the women’s hammer throw this year, and our men’s distance runners have really done well. I am really looking forward to watching the steeplechase.”
This weekend is the final time to post marks for NCAA qualification. With the new qualifying system, there are no qualifying standards to meet as the top 48 individuals and 24 relays will advance to the NCAA Preliminaries, making this meet the last opportunity for student-athletes to qualify for the postseason, either with an initial mark or by improving a previously posted mark.
“For some people, this is the last chance to qualify if they are on the bubble or maybe off the bubble right now,” VanHootegem explained. “There is no better time to get a big performance than at the conference meet. As far as people who are ranked high enough that they are already in, we want to build momentum.
“We are not trying to be cute with it in terms of trying to peak or something like that. We are trying to line up performances and carry that momentum ahead. I am more concerned with momentum going in to the regional meet than I am with trying to peak in two weeks or something like that. I would rather have momentum going forward.”
VanHootegem stressed that a major goal for the whole team is having everybody putting for their best effort, and performing as a team as well as an individual.
“I don’t want to sound cliché about it, but we are going to have our best performances and our best feelings coming away from the meet if everybody does their best,” said VanHootegem. “We cannot really control the other competitors’ performances. We just want to see fight from our athletes. This is about performing for your teammates and giving it your best. We can walk away pleased with that.”
Competition begins on Friday with field events starting at 11 a.m. CT and will stretch through Sunday. Live results will be available at deltatiming.com. Recaps will be available on SoonerSports.com following each day’s competition. For more meet-specific information, visit Meet Central.