Eagles eyeing SAC titles with Conference Championships this weekend

VIDEO: David Needs Interview 

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—The Carson-Newman outdoor track and field team will look to continue its strong showings of late as the team ventures over to Hickory, N.C. on the weekend to take part in 2016's South Atlantic Conference Meet at the Irwin Belk Track.

"I told the team that this is a meet to where you are going to hear me say that I want you to be better than everyone else," coach David Needs said. "We still want them to go in and compete to qualify for nationals, but that is not the only goal this week. We want our athletes to go out there and beat the other teams in our conference."

Prior to the start of the outdoor campaign, league officials voted C-N's men squad to finish third in the conference the women to place fifth at season's end.

The Eagles come into the meet with impressive showings so far into the year as Kevin Snead (Richmond, Va.), Tanner Stepp (Jefferson City, Tenn.) and Tori Gaul (Salisbury, N.C.) have already provisionally qualified for the 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships in their respected events.

Snead tallied a provisional qualification mark in the season's first meet at the Power Sox Invitational on March 19 after posting a 10.56 second time in the men's 100m dash. The junior improved upon the time at the North Carolina A&T Aggie Invitational on April 9 after completing the event with a second-place time of 10.33 seconds.

The showcase moved the sprinter to No. 2 in Division II in the event as Snead narrowly missed out on the automatic qualification of 10.31 seconds. The time was also the second-best time in Carson-Newman program history.

In five-timed events this season, Snead has tallied four wins and one second-place finish while also running the fastest fully automated timed 200m dash in program history with a 21.51 second finish at the Power Sox.

Stepp's provisional qualification mark in the men's high jump also came at the Power Sox Invitational when the sophomore leaped 2.11m for a first-place finish. The Jefferson City, Tenn. native finished second in the event at the 2015 SAC Meet a year ago and will be eyeing to stand on the top pedestal this go around.

On the women's side, Gaul provisionally qualified in the second meet of the season at the Winthrop Adidas Invitational on March 26. The sophomore recorded a 3.70m mark in the women's pole vault and will look to match her career-best of 3.90m she set at the UCS Invitational during the indoor campaign.

Marshall Shank (Granite Quarry, N.C.) has not provisionally qualified in the men's pole vault this season, but the freshman has been close. Shank broke a 45-year-old Carson-Newman record in the event after tallying a fifth-place showing of 4.75m at the Winthrop Adidas Invitational that was originally set by David Johnson back in 1971.   

Reigning SAC Women's Field Athlete of the Year, Tiana Mills (Chattanooga, Tenn.), completed 2015's conference meet with first-place showing in the triple jump. The 11.88m mark broke a Carson-Newman record, the Irwin Belk Track record and a SAC record along with the provisional qualification mark a year ago. Mills also recorded a second-place finish in the women's long jump at the meet.

Thus far in the 2016 outdoor season, Mills has tallied six top-10 finishes and two wins. The junior won the triple jump at the Power Sox with an 11.54m mark and the long jump at the Cumberlands Invitational on April 9 with a 5.13m tally.

"Each year, our league continues to get better and better. The South Atlantic Conference has the fastest woman in the country and the second-fastest man," Needs said. "It has some of the best athletes in the country. If Tiana is going to do the same thing that she did last year, she is going to have to bring her very best. What it took last year is not nearly what it is going to take this year to be where she wants to be."

Former Eagle, and current Graduate Assistant Randall Freeman, was named 2015's SAC Men's Field Athlete of the Year a season ago after competing in six events with two wins. Freeman won both the men's shot put and javelin throw while also tallying third-place finishes in the discus and triple jump.

"For our athletes to be competing against only the teams in our conference this weekend, it brings out the very best in them," Needs said. "That is what we want and that is what we are looking for."

Carson-Newman wrapped up 2015's conference meet with a fourth-place showing from the men's team and a fifth-place ranking by the women.

A complete recap can be found at cneagles.com following each day of competition and live updates throughout the weekend can be found on twitter at @CN_Track.