Newcomers ready to make a name for themselves at NCAA Championships

Marcus Krum

On Friday and Saturday in College Station, Texas, the entirety of the indoor track season will culminate in one meet. Every race, every throw and every jump could be the last of the season.

Yet for four of the six members whom the Texas men’s track and field team will be sending to the NCAA Indoor Championships, this will be their first time competing on a stage this big.

Two freshmen — distance runner Sam Worley and thrower Tripp Piperi — qualified for the meet by placing in the top 16 in their events. Piperi’s dominance all year has raised the bar for the rest of the throwing group.

“It’s motivation for the whole squad to be able to see a guy in his first championship season in the sport and already one of the top players,” said Tonja Buford-Bailey, Texas interim head coach of sprints, hurdles and relays. “He’s young, but he’s such a great leader. When people see him competing, it really gets them motivated.”

Worley set a school record in the mile by running a 3:58:04 in only his second mile ever run in college competition. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for with his confidence.

“I’m not going there just to go. I’m going there to do something — I’m going there to compete,” Worley said. “I don’t want to settle for just being there. I want to go there and make a statement about who I am as a runner.”

As a senior, Alan Zapalac has several years on the two freshmen. But he, too, is competing in his first NCAA championship meet, after becoming the first Longhorn to qualify in the weight throw in 17 years.

Sophomore George Patrick will also make his first appearance in the meet after placing No. 14 in the country in the heptathlon. He has made huge strides this season despite battling through an injury. Patrick set personal records in five of the heptathlon events at the Big 12 Championships.

“I want to go and compete at the best of my ability,” Patrick said. “If I can go to this meet and I don’t leave anything on the table … I’ll leave happy.”

Junior Steffin McCarter joins sophomore O’Brien Wasome in the long jump as the only two athletes with experience in this meet. Wasome also qualified in the triple jump, where he put up the third-best mark in the country this season.

“(He’s) getting himself in the mindset of excelling and being on a different level out here,” Buford-Bailey said. “Once he gets his mind set that it’s important every time to be at the highest level, he’s going to be very successful.”

The six athletes look to make their final statements of the indoor season as competition begins in College Station on Friday.