The Southern Oregon track and field team opened the 2016 indoor season up at the Tracktown USA High Performance meet last Friday in Portland. For the women, Tierra Barrett placed 14th in both the 200 (27.64) and 400 meters (1:02:08), while Kristine Dunn finished 15th in the 200 and 21st (27.8) in the 400 (1:04.95).
Meanwhile, Matt East finished in 7th in the 60 meters (6.86 seconds), fast enough to automatically qualify for the NAIA Championships in March. Julius Shellmire finished 9th (7.00 seconds), missing the ‘B’ qualifying mark by just 0.07 seconds. In the 200, East received a ‘B’ qualifying mark, with a 6th place finish of 22.36 seconds, while Shellmire barely missed the mark again, with a 7th place finish in 22.51 seconds.
East and Shellmire’s finishes are even more impressive considering the competition they faced because of the structure of this meet. [High performance meets aren’t just comprised of collegiate participants. It’s an “open field” which means athletes that aren’t associated with teams or clubs can enter the meet, as long as they hit a qualifying mark.] According to Gatlin, the 60 meters dash was a world class field. Olympic medalist Jeff Demps was in the field, as well as University of Oregon’s 4x All-American Arthur Delaney.
Gatlin, for one, was pleased with the performance. “It was a loaded, loaded field. We will not see a better field than that all year, so for Matt to make the final, and Julius to be one place out of making the final, in that field, that’s a really big deal. They ran really well.”
Despite the strong finish, Barrett, Dunn, East, and Shellmire were the only SOU participants. According to Gatlin, the primary reasons for less participants for indoor center around funding. The indoor program was implemented around five years ago, without an increase in the travel budget. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
SOU, along with other West coast schools, fall victim to the fact of limited indoor facilities in the region. Gatlin says last week’s meet in Portland was the first indoor meet in Oregon in over 15 years. That leaves University of Washington and Boise State as the primary meets for SOU to attend, both seven-plus hour drives, and with no travel budget, it’s nearly impossible to bring an abundance of runners on those trips.
Because of this, Gatlin says it’s limited on who they take to these meets. “Our philosophy is we generally take the athletes we feel are gonna have a chance to not only qualify for the National meet but to be in like the 8 to 10 top athletes. Whereas outdoor, if you get a qualifying mark, you’re gonna go, no matter what.”
Limited budget and desire for top athletes have made for pretty limited participants; only seven will participate this week at the Boise State meet. According to Gatlin though, this may soon increase, with a talented freshman class coming in next year.
While this increase in talent is certainly positive for the program, Athletics may have to get creative to accommodate more runners qualifying. “We’re probably going to run into that, it’s a good problem to have,” says coach Gatlin. “I think we’re gonna have a lot of people that are going to be competitive at the national level in the next year or two, so it’s something we’re certainly going to have to explore, being able to get to more places.”