Greensboro, N.C. — After the event was postponed the night of May 28, senior Bridget Franek (Hiram, Ohio) finally got to race the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Saturday at the NCAA Eastern First Round on the campus of North Carolina A&T. The senior took full advantage of the opportunity, winning her heat with the fastest time of the day to earn a ticket to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., in June. Franek wasn’t the only Nittany Lion to advance individually on Saturday, as junior Shavon Greaves (Lakewood, N.J.) and senior Aleesha Barber (Decatur, Ga.) qualified through in their respective events, while the women’s 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays also earned berths to Eugene.
"We capped off an excellent First Round of the NCAAs with 15 individual qualifiers, and two relays," said Director of Track and Field and Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "Looking ahead to Eugene and the finals, we cover 10 events for the women, and four different events for the men where we are stacked and strong."
Franek went to the front from the gun, soloing an impressive 9:56.12 to win her heat by over 35 seconds. Franek’s effort was also the best out of the three-section quarterfinal by over 15 seconds. Franek’s outstanding performance also completes a sensational NCAA streak by the senior, who has qualified for NCAA Championships in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field on a perfect 12 of 12 occasions. The senior was joined by teammates Natalie Bower (Pleasant Unity, Pa.) and Nicole Lord (Media, Pa.), who finished 22nd and 26th, respectively, to finish off outstanding freshman campaigns.
Barber made the Eugene field in outstanding fashion, breaking her own school record in the 100-meter hurdles, going 12.85 to finish second in her heat and automatically advance to the semi-finals in Oregon. Barber, who posted the fourth-fastest time in the field on Saturday, bettered her own previous wind-legal PR of 12.90 – set in 2008. The senior will be making her fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the event, and her eighth-overall appearance at the NCAA Track and Field meet. Greaves blistered to her second-qualifying berth in as many days, this time in the 200-meters, thanks to a finishing time of 23.11 to place second in her quarterfinal section. Greaves, who was second in the 200 at the NCAA Indoor Championships, already had another qualifier under her belt, advancing through in the 100-meters on Friday evening. The junior will be making her second-consecutive appearance in the outdoor 200 at the NCAA level.
Both Greaves and Barber were also members of the Lions’ 4×100 relay, along with teammates Caitlin Defusco (Schwenksville, Pa.) and Fawn Dorr (Akron, N.Y.). The Nittany Lions combined for an outstanding effort, clocking a season-best 44.57 – which betters the squad’s winning performance at the Big Ten Championships, and is also the third-best performance in school history in the event. The foursome finished second-to-only Auburn, which clocked the fastest time of the day at 43.48. The Lions’ effort ranked seventh among qualifiers.
For the second-straight year, Dorr electrified the Greensboro crowd with a sizzling anchor leg on the 4×400, bringing home a heat with for the Nittany Lions. Dorr’s official split of 51.31 was tops among closers throughout the 24-team field, and brought her team through the tape at 3:31.35 – the second-fastest time of the day, trailing only LSU at 3:31.01. Barber led off the effort, bringing the Lions through the opening leg in outstanding position, handing off to Greaves, who held strong through the 800-meter mark. Freshman Doris Anyanwu (Beltsville, Md.) covered the third leg, before turning the stick to Dorr on the close.
"I am excited by the outstanding performances from our successful sprint corps as well as the exciting upset finishes from Bianca Fung (North Babylon, N.Y.), Jocelyn Witmer (Lancaster, Pa.) and Tyler McCandless (Bath, Pa.)," continued Sullivan. Fung qualified through in the long jump while McCandless made it on to Eugene in the 10,000-meters on Thursday, while Witmer was a surprise qualifier in the pole vault on Friday afternoon.
In the distances, sophomore Vince McNally (Smoketown, Pa.) was the top place winner on the men’s side, claiming 24th in the 5000-meters in 14:24.53, while teammate Kyle Dawson (Coatesville, Pa.) turned in a 35th-place effort in 14:40.45. The Nittany Lions also had a pair of representatives in the men’s discus led by sophomore Joe Kovacs (Nazareth, Pa.), who finished 35th with a toss of 157-5 (47.99). Senior Cory Eck (State College, Pa.) would close out his Nittany Lion career with an appearance in the discus, where he placed 44th overall.
"Combining this all together and heading to the finals," Sullivan said. "We stand to represent extremely well and we stand to execute to bring home not only great results but more NCAA All-Americans."
The Lions will train through next weekend before traveling to the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Historic Hayward Field, which are set for June 9-12.
Nittany Lions Qualifiers
Shavon Greaves (100m, 200m)
Aleesha Barber (100mH)
Fawn Dorr (400mH)
Megan Duncan (400mH)
Evonne Britton (400mH)
Bridget Franek (3000m SC)
Jocelyn Witmer (Pole Vault)
Bianca Fung (Long Jump)
Karlee McQuillen (Javelin)
4x100m (Greaves, DeFusco, Barber, Dorr)
4x400m (Barber, Greaves, Anyanwu, Dorr)