Eagles aiming for another top-10 finish at NCCAA Outdoor Championships

OC's Larry Brown unleases a throw in the hammer during last year's NCCAA Outdoor Championships in Joliet, Ill. Brown ranks second nationally in the event entering this year's NCCAA meet in Rome, Ga.
OC's Larry Brown unleases a throw in the hammer during last year's NCCAA Outdoor Championships in Joliet, Ill. Brown ranks second nationally in the event entering this year's NCCAA meet in Rome, Ga.

ROME, Ga. (April 30, 2014) – In three national track and field meets since joining the National Christian College Athletic Association, Oklahoma Christian has posted three top-10 team finishes.

OC coach Randy Heath – who’s usually quite cautious when discussing the Eagles’ chances at the national level – has confidence that his squad can make it 4-for-4 this week at the NCCAA Outdoor Championships, which will run from Thursday through Saturday at Shorter University.

The Eagles took 10th at the NCCAA Indoor Championships in February and have only been bolstered during the outdoor season by the return of several performers – particularly among the middle-distance and distance ranks – who sat out during the indoor campaign.

“It will be a competitive meet and very interesting,” said Heath, whose team finished sixth last year at the NCCAA outdoor meet. “It will be interesting to see how points shake out. Everybody made the bus and is feeling good and feeling healthy. We’ve got a lot of events on Thursday. If we can do well then, that would get momentum going for us and maybe get us going.

“I haven’t put a pencil to anything, but we’re looking to try to finish in the top 10.”

The Eagles’ two highest-ranked competitors have proven themselves at previous national meets. Senior Larry Brown was the NCCAA runner-up in the hammer last year and enters this year’s meet ranked No. 2 in the event with a top throw of 54.87 meters.

Sophomore Austin Wallace has finished second in the indoor heptathlon the past two years. He sat out last year’s NCCAA Outdoor Championships due to injury, but he’s healthy this year and ranked No. 2 in the decathlon after a 6,280-point outing earlier this month. Wallace also is a national-title threat in the javelin, in which he ranks third at 50.05 meters.

“We’re hoping he’ll pick up a few extra points for us in the javelin,” Heath said of Wallace.

Keegan Palmer (triple jump) and Nate Donley (discus) also have qualified for the national meet in field events, with Palmer ranked 15th.

In recent years, OC has developed a reputation for producing competitive middle-distance and distance runners and this year is no exception, as the Eagles will offer legitimate threats to score points – and perhaps win – in the 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters.

Senior Brayden Barrientez, a 10-time NAIA/NCCAA All-American in track and cross country, is ranked only 17th in the 1,500 at 4:01.15, but is a savvy runner who has much national-meet experience and is rounding into form after sitting out the indoor season. He’ll be joined in that race by teammates Kyle Broaddrick, Brennym Kaelin and Evan Durrill.

In the 5,000, sophomore Bryant Keirns (14:46.10) and junior Roberto Diaz (14:48.75) rank third and fourth, respectively, in the NCCAA. Diaz, who was second in the 5,000 at last year’s NCCAA outdoor meet, also sat out the indoor season but appears to be fully recovered from an injury he suffered near the end of the cross country season.

Broaddrick (15:32.13) is ranked 19th in the 5,000 and will attempt the 1,500-5,000 double. OC assistant coach Wade Miller, who works with OC’s middle-distance and distance runners, said (with the exception of Broaddrick) it made sense to split up the Eagles’ contingent in the 1,500 and 5,000.

“We’re just seeing where we can be the most effective,” he said.

Sophomore Tim Zuercher is ranked 19th in the 10,000 at 33:18.24 and with a strong race could also earn some team points.

“I feel like he can run quicker than that,” Miller said.

OC also will field a strong 4x800-meter relay team, consisting of Barrientez, Kaelin, Diaz and Broaddrick – in some order. In a pinch, Keirns or Durrill also could be called on. The Eagles enter the meet ranked seventh in the event at 8:02.93, “but we haven’t run it in good conditions yet,” Miller said. “I know we can do better.”

In the sprint races, OC also will be well-represented. Jamal George and Austin Kruzich will run in the 100 meters, George, Kruzich and Joshua Jones will run in the 200 meters and Jones and Trenton Parker will run in the 400 meters.  Winston Ogletree will race in the 400-meter hurdles, an event in which he’s ranked 14th nationally.

Kruzich, George, Ogletree and Jones will team up in the 4x400-meter relay. The Eagles have a top time of 3:25.97 in that event.