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Palmer leads Panthers to Outdoor Track and Field Nationals

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Pitt junior Desmond Palmer is now a three-time NCAA All-American. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics

Pitt junior Desmond Palmer is now a three-time NCAA All-American. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics

Pitt junior Desmond Palmer is now a three-time NCAA All-American. Courtesy of Pitt Athletics

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

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Junior Desmond Palmer is going back to TrackTown USA, and this time he’s bringing three teammates with him to Oregon.

Four Pitt Panthers qualified for the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in Jacksonville, Florida, this weekend.

“I would consider our last day of competition and the whole weekend a success,” Pitt head coach Alonzo Webb said in a press release Saturday. “We are in what I consider the toughest region to qualify to the national championship. We are heading to Oregon with the purpose of making the final and bring home some All-American accolades.”

After placing eighth last year in the 400 meter hurdles and earning First Team All-American status, Palmer will compete at the national championships in Eugene, Oregon, for the third straight year.

Palmer’s time of 50.22 in his 400mH heat Friday night was good enough for third place and an automatic qualifying spot to nationals. He already defended his 400mH title at the May 15 ACC Championships with a season-best time of 49.66, just short of matching Pitt’s school record time of 49.41 — set by Palmer a year ago.

“It was definitely an accomplishment being able to repeat my [ACC] title, but now I have more work to do to try and go out and get a national title,” Palmer said.

In the final event of the NCAA East preliminaries Saturday night, the Pitt men’s 4×400 meter relay team — comprised of Palmer, junior Brylan Slay and seniors Donnell Taylor and Chris Tate — secured the 12th and final qualifying spot for the national championships with a time of 3:06:24.

The top three teams in all three heats automatically qualified for nationals, while the next three fastest times rounded out the 12 qualifying teams.

The Panthers finished their heat in fifth place, leaving their fate  unknown until the last race was over. After the final heat, the letter “Q” appeared next to Pittsburgh on the scoreboard, indicating the Panthers were the last team qualified.

“It was the biggest relief, not just for me but for my teammates who weren’t able to go in their individual events,” Palmer said. “It was a stressful 5-10 minutes just waiting, just waiting. But once we qualified we were just full of joy.”

Slay, Taylor and Tate will be making their first trip to nationals with Pitt. Tate previously competed at the 2014 NCAA outdoor championships in the 4×100 meter relay while at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I’m most proud of our men’s 4×400 team that finally accomplished something they set out to do a year ago and that was making it to the national championship,” Webb said in the release. “These young men have been through a lot together and I’m so happy for them, especially our seniors.”

The 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships will be held June 8 through 11, at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

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Palmer leads Panthers to Outdoor Track and Field Nationals