Track and field ready for NCAA Championships

Nineteen University of Alabama athletes traveled to Eugene, Oregon, on Sunday, where they will compete for the Crimson Tide in the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Hosted by the University of Oregon, the championships will begin Wednesday at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. The 19 competing athletes will span 14 events to total 15 overall entries to the championship meet.

“We want our athletes to go out and compete as hard as they can. If we go out and run, throw and jump with everything we have, we’ll have a successful meet,” said Alabama coach Dan Waters.

“The positive thing about this meet is that, because we have so many young athletes going for the first time, it will be a great learning experience and a coachable moment for those individuals. Regardless of the outcome, for those first-time qualifiers that are freshmen, sophomores and juniors, this will be great for them and, ultimately, great for our program moving forward.”

First-time qualifiers, and those who have already competed nationally before, secured their trip to the championships with their performance at the NCAA East Regional Preliminaries held in Jacksonville, Florida, May 29 to 31. In order to qualify, athletes had to finish in the top 12 of their event.

Waters said the meet was a good learning experience for a team that is continuing to improve and progress, especially in terms of national competition.

“Overall, it was great to see us put together some great things at the end of the season,” Waters said. “It wasn’t a perfect meet at regionals, but we had a lot of great things happen and gained a lot of valuable experience along the way. Looking back, though, there have been some unbelievable performances this season. To have us qualify 15 entries to NCAAs in 14 events, it shows how much we’ve progressed and how we’re becoming a complete team that is capable of scoring in every discipline. We’ve definitely raised the bar.”

Junior sprinter Remona Burchell qualified for the NCAA Championships after a strong showing during the second day of regionals at Hodges Stadium, where she won her 100-meter heat with a time of 11.03, which currently sits at second in the world.

Not only did this finish shatter the Hodges Stadium record of 11.18, but the Alabama record as well. Set in 1986 by Pauline Davis, the previous record stood at 11.11. Burchell’s time is also the best wind-legal time by a collegiate athlete this season.

Despite the success she’s had this season, Burchell said she’s often still nervous when she lines up to begin a race.

“At times, I’m nervous – I’m very nervous – but I know what I’m capable of doing. I try to relax so I can do what I do best,” she said. “I try to relax and keep my focus, and I try to be prepared for anything.”

Waters echoed this sentiment, saying that during this final stretch, it is important for the athletes to remain focused and continue to compete as they have all season.

“At this point in the season, the margin of error is incredibly slim, so the mental game is critically important,” Waters said. “Our athletes have competed enough to know what it takes physically to deliver at this level, so it’s vital for our athletes to be mentally sharp, focused and trust what they have learned and practiced all season.”

To combat her nerves at the starting line and to achieve the focus that Waters spoke of, Burchell has a simple ritual: She talks to herself.

“When I’m at the starting line, I talk to myself. I just talk to myself to calm myself down and relax. If I don’t talk to myself, I’m going to be extremely nervous, so I just talk to myself and tell myself that you’re one of the best, so you don’t need to be nervous.”

Burchell said, most importantly, she hopes to run a faster time at championships and looks to improve off the starting block, an issue she said she has struggled with this season.

She also said that despite her reserved demeanor, she is excited to see her hard work pay off in a trip to the National Championships in her first outdoor season at the Capstone, which she came to from junior college.

“It’s exciting,” Burchell said. “Sometimes I’m very happy and feel very overwhelmed. But I’m the kind of person that’s happy, but I don’t show my excitement, as some people would say. I keep it to myself, but it makes me feel very good.”

(See also "Track and Field athletes qualify at NCAA regional")

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