AP NEWS

Nebraska men’s track team won a conference championship, but NCAA meet will be a downer

March 7, 2019

Two weeks ago the Nebraska men’s track team won a Big Ten Conference championship by winning the indoor conference meet.

Next up is the NCAA Championship, on Friday and Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama.

In some sports after you win the Big Ten championship, that also means you’re also going to have a pretty good chance to win the national championship, including in volleyball, men’s basketball, wrestling and sometimes football.

But that won’t be the case for the Nebraska men’s track team this week. They aren’t a national championship contender. Not even close.

Nebraska is only entered in two events for the NCAA indoor championship. Freshman Mayson Conner is seeded 11th in the high jump, and senior Jared Seay is seeded seventh in the heptathlon. Cale Wagner also qualified in the heptathlon, but is injured and had to withdraw.

Nebraska coach Gary Pepin puts a major emphasis on having a complete team that can compete in all of the events and win the conference championship. But he’s also disappointed that Nebraska doesn’t have more elite athletes that can qualify for the NCAA meet. The top 16 athletes in each event during the season qualify for indoor nationals, along with the top 12 relays.

It’s not OK to Pepin that Nebraska won a conference championship but probably won’t be able to finish in the top 20 at nationals.

“That is disappointing to me, and that’s kind of always in the back of my mind,” Pepin said.

Pepin sometimes tells the team that if they’re not in position to win a conference championship that’s on the coaches, because they didn’t recruit enough good athletes.

In recruiting Nebraska sometimes loses top athletes to the warm weather schools, but if the Huskers are going to improve on the national level it needs more top-end athletes, Pepin said.

“Our team goals are to win the conference championships, and get in the top 10 at nationals,” Pepin said. “So what happens in a year like this for me is you win the conference championship, and now you get ready to go to the national meet and you think, ‘Man, what a downer.’ And so how do you solve that? Really easy, you solve that by getting more great athletes. You continue to get the developers and get kids to improve, but you got to get more kids that are national-level athletes on your team.”

Some of the Huskers had great seasons, but it still wasn’t good enough at the national level. Nebraska’s Elijah Lucy was the Big Ten champion in the long jump, but was only ranked 27th in the country this season in the event. Redshirt freshman George Kusche set a school record in the mile (3:59.61), but needed to be about 1 second faster to qualify for nationals.

The Nebraska men have finished in the top 10 at indoor nationals just three times in the last 20 years. Last year the Huskers were entered in five events, and finished tied for 28th.

There are six Big Ten men’s teams that are entered in more events than Nebraska for the NCAA meet. Indiana and Wisconsin are in seven events apiece, Iowa is in six, Ohio State four and Penn State and Minnesota three apiece.

Of the men’s teams in the top of the rankings, Texas Tech is in 14 events in the NCAA meet, Florida is in 13, LSU nine, Texas A&M seven, Georgia six and Houston seven.

The Nebraska women are entered in one event at nationals, with Angela Mercurio seeded 14th in the triple jump.