Track and Field: Five Panthers compete at Nationals


Sprinter Brycen Spratling ended his college career as a First Team All-American at the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, on June 11, 2014. (Courtesy of Nate Barrett/Eric Evans Photography / Pitt Athletics)

Time proved to be the toughest opponent for the five Pitt athletes who traveled to Eugene, Ore., to compete in the NCAA Outdoor National Championships.

“There is a very small margin for error, especially competing at this level,” head coach Alonzo Webb said. “A lot of races are won or lost by hundredths of seconds and even thousandths of seconds.” 

Two of Pitt’s youngest runners, freshman Desmond Palmer and sophomore Evann Thompson, ended their seasons during day one of the event, held last weekend in what is known as Track Town, USA. 

Thompson, who ranked No. 1 in the ACC for the 400-meter hurdles, was the only female representing Pitt out West and was seeded 10th heading into the semifinals. It was her first appearance on the national stage. 

“It was a breathtaking and a surreal moment because it felt professional, like I was competing at a professional track meet,” Thompson said.

The sophomore ran 58.89 seconds, finishing sixth in her heat and placing her 17th overall. The top two runners in each heat advanced to the finals, joined by the next two fastest times overall — Thompson missed qualifying by over a full second.

“I didn’t really realize what I was doing until the second half of the race,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m at Nationals; I need to step it up.’ I tried to give it everything I had that second half of the race.”

Desmond Palmer, also competing in the 400-meter high hurdles, was the No. 14 seed heading into the semifinals — and that is what he placed. Running 51.12 seconds, Palmer did not advance to  finals, and he missed qualifying by 0.44 seconds. 

“I think the nerves got to them a little,” Webb said of Thompson and Palmer in a statement released June 12. “They both didn’t run like they’re capable of running, but it was still a great experience for them to be here and compete.” 

Also racing on day one of competition was senior Brycen Spratling in the 400-meter dash. Spratling was the only Panther to qualify for finals, finishing first in his heat with a time of 45.41 seconds. 

“I was very fortunate to make it to the finals,” Spratling said. “For me to be the only one means a lot.”

The senior was ranked No. 2 heading into the second day of competition, with the No.1 rank belonging to Deon Lendore, an undefeated junior from Texas A&M. 

Lendore remained undefeated in the finals, placing first with a time of 45.02 seconds. 

Spratling placed fourth, finishing in 45.49 seconds.

“Overall, I can’t beat myself up about it,” he said. “I feel like I could have ran a lot faster.” 

Spratling’s fourth place finish earned him a First Team All-American status, the third time in his career that he has gained this honor. 

Spratling also competed in the semifinal race for the men’s 4×400-meter relay, along with seniors Micah Murray, Carvin Nkanata and freshman Palmer. The team was seeded fifth in competition and finished eleventh overall. Their time of 3:06.61 did not qualify them to advance — only the top eight times qualified for the finals. 

“We expected to make the finals in the 4×4, but we ended up fourth,” Webb said. “I know if they had the opportunity to run again, they probably would have made the finals. It’s just that it wasn’t there that day.” 

Like Spratling, Nkanata also ran two events. Prior to the 4×400-meter relay, the senior ran in the semifinals for the 200-meter dash. Nkanata was seeded No. 20 going into competition and his time of 20.94 seconds placed him 14th overall. 

Nkanata missed qualifying for finals by .07 seconds. 

Both Nkanata and the mens’ 4×400-meter relay team earned Second Team All-American status for their efforts. Thompson missed earning Second Team All-American status in the 400-meter hurdles by .05 seconds, but she gained an Honorable Mention for her efforts. 

“I’m proud of their performance this year,” Webb said. “Any time your athletes make All-American — that’s great. That means they are one of the top 24 athletes in the country.”  

The most minuscule fractions of time were the ultimate determinates this weekend for the Panthers. Both Palmer and Thompson plan on returning to compete in Nationals next year and making sure that time will be on their side. 

“Now that I know what I’m actually capable of, I expect to be competing at Nationals next year,” Thompson said.