The road to Hayward Field finally came to an end for the Florida Gators track and field team, as they concluded the NCAA East Preliminaries Saturday. The four-day weekend event finished with the No.4 Gators sending 25 total entries to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
After an impressive first round competition, the orange and blue entered the quarterfinals with one goal in sight: a berth to Eugene, Oregon. Senior Mark Porter became the first Gator athlete on the men's side to qualify for nationals in the javelin event.
Friday, the men ignited nine bids to clash it out at nationals which included a nifty outing from redshirt sophomore Joseph Fahnbulleh.
The Hopkins, Minnesota, native started the windy and rainy afternoon helping the Gators in the final leg of the 4x100 relays. Redshirt junior PJ Austin, senior Dedrick Vanover, redshirt sophomore Tyler Davis and Fahnbulleh finished with a qualifying time of 38.81 seconds.
Florida looks to get its eighth NCAA championship in the event. Under head coach Mike Holloway, the Gators now have positioned a 4x100 team in 17 of 19 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Fahnbulleh’s day was just getting started. Along with Vanover, Fahnbulleh returned to the blocks in a highly competitive 100-meter race. The sprinter earned a top qualifying time of 10.04 seconds, edging out Georgia star Matthew Boling.
Vanover, a hometown kid from Fort White High School, ran 10.14 seconds to punch his first ticket to Eugene in his collegiate career.
Fahnbulleh earned his third entry to Oregon and will attempt to defend his NCAA Outdoor Championship crown in the 200-meter. The reigning champion dominated in the quarterfinals, clocking in at 19.85 seconds, being the sole representative for UF.
“Over the last three weeks, he's [Fahnbulleh] really starting to figure things out and trust me,” Holloway said. “Joe's a very strong-minded individual. I think he's starting to trust me and believe that I can get him to where he wants to be."
In the 400-meter, Florida added three more qualifiers led by junior Champion Allison. Allison came off the blocks and crossed the finish line with a time of 45.03 seconds. Junior Jacory Patterson and sophomore Ryan Willie also received automatic bids to Oregon.
Similarly, UF’s women's track and field team locked in a pair of Gators in the 400-meter, 800-meter and 400-meter hurdles as they held their competitions Saturday.
The duo of sophomore Talitha Diggs and senior Taylor Manson (51.77 seconds) returns to nationals with an automatic bid in the 400-meter. Diggs held the fastest time among qualifiers as the Saucon Valley, Pennsylvania, native clocked in at 51.22 seconds.
Two more Gators booked their ticket to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 800-meter race. Winning her heat, redshirt junior Gabrielle Wilkinson makes her third-consecutive trip to Oregon as she secured her spot with a time of 2:03.25 seconds. Long distance runner Imogen Barrett will also advance with a top-two finish among qualifiers.
After missing out in the 100-meter hurdles, hepthathlete Anna Hall redeemed herself in the 400-meter hurdle competition. The Highlands Ranch, Colorado, native submitted a top time of 55.25 seconds while Vanessa Watson etched her name to the NCAA Outdoor Championship list.
Hall will see the track once more next month, as she previously qualified for the heptathlon this season.
To go along with the many entries for the orange and blue, fans will have the chance to possibly witness history at nationals. Star jumper Jasmine Moore looks to go a perfect 6-for-6 in events this season as she is slated to compete in both the long and triple jump.
Earlier in the week, the sophomore leaper qualified in the long jump at a distance of 6.57 meters/21-6.75. Moore found herself back in dirt in the long jump as she catapulted herself to an impressive mark 13.65 meters/44-9.5.
Additionally, UF claimed two more qualifiers in redshirt senior Natricia Hooper and sophomore Alissa Braxton in the long jump.
To close out the prelims, in the 4x400 relays, Florida will have two teams competing for the chance to take the crown back to Gainesville.
The men’s team of Patterson, Willie, Allison and senior Kemuel Santana left Bloomington, Indiana, with the best qualifying mark of 3:01.22 seconds. Allison anchored the final leg with a 44.33 second split to secure a seat at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Likewise, Hall, Manson, Diggs and junior Sterling Lester put the finishing touches on Florida's day Saturday. A 3:27.37 second outing for this group in the 4x400 claimed the final entry for the Gators to trip to nationals.
"At the end of the day, we're really pleased with what we've got going. We got a chance to go there in two weeks and make some noise,” Holloway said.
All in all, the women will have 16 total entries as they compete in nine events at next month's competition.
Florida is set to take its talents, and its dreams of raising the NCAA title once more, to Oregon as competitions last from June 8-11.
Curtis Michaud is a fourth-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications. He specializes in sports and media and would like to continue to provide authentic, thorough, and engaging sport content for all readers. He is an enterprise reporter and lacrosse and track and field writer for The Alligator.