Bowling Green, Ky. — With at-large bids to the NCAA Championship announced Tuesday afternoon, Western Kentucky University will send a program-record eight athletes in four events to the national meet June 11-14 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Lady Topper 4x400-meter relay team of Miaie Williams, Kellie Morrison, Alecia Brown, and Valerie Brown – who earned All-Mideast Region honors yesterday through the United States Track and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTCCCA) – received an at-large invitation to compete in this year's NCAA Championship based on their 3:35.37 performance at the regional in Fayetteville, Ark., this past weekend. That time eclipsed the former WKU record by over three seconds, while also setting a new Sun Belt Conference standard, formerly held by Florida International's 2003 foursome at 3:36.25. The team will enter the championship meet ranked 16th in the country.
The WKU women will be joining the Hilltopper 4x400-meter relay contingent of Alexander Larin, Gavin Smellie, Romaine McKay, and Terrill McCombs, who earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships with a third-place finish at the regional meet. The men's quartet passed the baton in 3:05.93 to earn All-Mideast Region honors and set a new WKU record by nearly two seconds, ranking 16th in the country this season.
First-year head coach Erik Jenkins says "Western Kentucky University has a storied tradition and we are continuing to make progress in the men's and women's programs. We are taking eight young, competitive, and talented student-athletes to compete at the NCAA Championship and we will certainly take advantage of the opportunity."
Although this will be the first NCAA appearance by a Lady Topper 4x400-meter relay team, the current men's team is no stranger to national limelight. The same foursome earned All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor Championship in March with an eighth-place finish.
Set to pull double-duty in Des Moines is McCombs, who has also earned an automatic berth in the open 400-meter dash as the 22nd-ranked athlete in the country. His fifth-place finish at the regional meet earned the sophomore his second-straight All-Mideast Region accolade. McCombs has also secured the second NCAA bid of his career as an individual, as he qualified to compete in the 200-meter dash at the 2008 NCAA Indoor Championship.
Meanwhile, Smellie is awaiting word as to his acceptance into the meet as an at-large qualifier after placing eighth and earning All-Mideast Region honors at regionals. The Toronto, Ontario native is ranked 30th in the country in the 200-meter dash, as he posted a personal-record time of 20.71 in the preliminaries of the event at the regional meet.
"I am extremely happy with the number of athletes that have earned the opportunity to compete for WKU at the NCAA Championship," adds Jenkins. "The fact that we have been able to put together two relays and to have individuals compete in their respective events is quite an accomplishment."
Competition at Drake will get underway on Wednesday, June 11, with McCombs running first for WKU in the first round of the 400-meter dash at 6:45 p.m. (CDT). Fans can follow the meet with two days of live television coverage, including Friday from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on CBS College Sports Network (formerly CSTV) and Saturday from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. on CBS.