The next stop for Alabama track and field is the one that could send UA’s athletes on to the outdoor NCAA championships.

Alabama sends 36 athletes to Jacksonville, Florida, this weekend for the NCAA East Preliminaries. The top athletes from there and another qualifier in Sacramento, California, advance to the NCAA track and field championship in Austin, Texas, in early June. The top 12 individual competitors and top 12 teams from each preliminary site for each event move on to the championships.

“We have a large number of seniors on this team, so we have veterans that know what to do and have this workman mentality of getting it done so we can advance to Austin,” coach Dan Waters said. “I think that’s what you’ll see: a workman-type attitude from our team.”

Alabama’s men were 10th nationally in the most recent rankings while the women checked in at 12th.

Several athletes are already coming off strong performances as they head toward the end of the season. Senior Kord Ferguson won the SEC title in the discus competition earlier this month with a throw of 195 feet, 10 inches. Senior Gilbert Kigen won the 10,000 meters and finished second in the 5,000 meters. Senior Portious Warren won the SEC title in the shot put while fellow senior Haley Teel finished second.

For many of those athletes, the preliminary competition this weekend will require a solid showing for them to qualify in a strong position, but doesn’t necessarily require their peak performance.

“You want to feel a little bit of pressure, but I’m confident we have a good group of people at this meet and I think we’re going to qualify a lot of people through,” Ferguson said. “It should be a fun one.”

A big performance can still help build confidence for the national championship, though.

“Honestly, I have (set personal record) at every meet this year,” said senior long jumper Kiara Williams, who won the silver at the SEC championships. “At this point I’m just going up and up. It’s been a struggle for indoor with my hamstring, but now everything is falling into place and I’m excited to see what happens at regionals.”

Kigen and Warren are both ranked No. 1 in their respective events for the East qualifier. So is junior Shelby McEwen, who competes in the men’s high jump and won the NCAA title in the indoor championships earlier this year.

Other athletes need to post personal bests to have a strong chance of qualifying for Austin, or to qualify in the most competitive heats at the NCAA championships. It takes a combination of the top athletes and others to qualify to put the program in position to score points and be competitive at NCAA championships.

“Every year that I’ve been at Alabama, we try to spread our scholarship dollars out and make sure we have a complete team,” Waters said. “It gets harder and harder every single year. The league gets harder, the conference gets harder, the national scene is that much more challenging and to have athletes that are at the top of their game going into regional championships and hopefully be able to score points to make the final round of the championships speaks to kind of where we are with the program. We’re obviously never happy and not settling, nothing like that. We have to keep moving forward but we’re in a pretty good spot.”

Both the men and women finished fifth at the SEC outdoor championships earlier this month. This weekend is the penultimate competition for the year before NCAA championships conclude the outdoor season.

“It’s been a good season,” Waters said. “We took a lot of momentum out of what we did indoors and our national finish and parleyed it into a lot of regional qualifiers. We have a big group of people going to regionals this weekend and hope to advance a very large number on to the national championship. This is the first round of the NCAAs and we want to make sure we have our competitive mindset where it needs to be, take the opportunities we’re given and advance to the national championship.”

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.

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