Four Eagles qualify for 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships

INDIANAPOLIS—Four Carson-Newman track and field athletes will be making the trip to Bradenton, Fla. from May 26-28 to compete in the 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships with hopes of winning individual national championships as Kevin Snead (Richmond, Va.), Tanner Stepp (Jefferson City, Tenn.), Tori Gaul (Salisbury, N.C.) and Tiana Mills (Chattanooga, Tenn.) each qualified the NCAA released Tuesday afternoon.

"We are so proud and excited to be where we are now. This opportunity doesn't come around every year," coach David Needs said. "The benchmark for most Division II programs is to have one national qualifier, so we are thrilled to have four this year. We are slowly making our way up into the elite category for programs in Division II.  To be able to represent your university and to compete for a national championship is exciting for our kids who have been competing since December."

The quaternary of Eagle athletes to be selected to the Outdoor Championships marks the most representatives Carson-Newman will be sending to any NCAA Track & Field Championships in the history of the program.

The previous high came just a few short months ago when Needs send three participants to the 2016 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in Pittsburg, K.S. from March 11-13 of this year.   

Snead is coming off the most successful outdoor season a Carson-Newman sprinter has ever had in the longevity of the program. Currently ranked first in Division II following his school record time of 10.21 seconds in the men's 100 meter dash at the North Carolina Aggie Last Chance Meet last weekend on May 15, the junior has beaten a number of Division I runners and Olympic hopefuls throughout the season and will be the No. 1 seed in the event when competitions commences.

The sprinter will also be competing in the men's 200 meter dash at the NCAA Division II Outdoor track & Field Championships where his best time on the season came in another school record breaking performance at the Jesse Owens Track & Field Classic on April 22 following a 20.75 second time. Snead currently ranks sixth in the event for Division II.

The Richmond, Va. native will be making his second trip to the national stage this year after wrapping up the indoor slate with a 10th-place showing in the men's 60 meter dash at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in early March. Snead left the Indoor Championships with his first career All-American honor bestowed by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Stepp will be making his second trip to the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships as the sophomore placed ninth a season ago after completing the men's high jump with a 2.10 meter leap. The showing was good enough for the then freshman's second All-American honor.

The jumper will be heading back to the national stage for the second time this year after garnering another All-American honor during the indoor season after finishing the event with a 2.06 meter mark. Coming into this round of competition, the Jefferson City, Tenn. native has earned All-American statuses in each of his three collegiate seasons—indoor (2015, 2016), outdoor (2015).

Stepp's high point thus far into the 2016 also came in last weekend's North Carolina Aggie Last Chance Meet as the sophomore extended his own outdoor school record in the event to 2.13 meters. The three-time All-American currently sits fourth in the Division II polls for the men's high jump.

Making her second trip to the NCAA Championships will be sophomore pole vaulter Gaul. The field athlete was a national qualifier and competed in the 2016 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in early March, but came out with a no height. The sophomore will be eagerly awaiting another go around on the national stage to conclude the outdoor season.

Gaul, who holds both of Carson-Newman's pole vaulting records for the indoor and outdoor sectors, set her season high back on April 1 at the High Point Vertklasse Meeting after completing the trial with a 3.81 meter mark. The South Atlantic Conference women's champion in the event is currently ranked 20th in Division II.

Carson-Newman's final participant at the 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Champions will be Mills in the women's triple jump. Mills saved her best performance of the season thus far for the Aggie Last Chance Meet where the junior extended her program record in the event to 12.13 meters on her final jump.

Mills currently sits at No. 20 in Division II for the event after placing one-tenth better than Brittani Reagan and Ine Mylie who finished the season with a tie for 21st overall at 12.12 meters in the triple jump.

As if qualifying for the Outdoor Championships was not already impressive enough, both of Carson-Newman's women representatives did so while also maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout the duration of the academic year.

"We have been blessed this year, but at the same time, we have some great athletes who are willing to work and not quit," Needs said. "Tori had a torn hamstring after the conference meet and came back to put forth a national qualifying mark. Tiana qualified for nationals on the last jump of the season. Kevin shattered the school record in his last 100 meter run and Tanner recorded his highest jump of the season on his final attempted a weekend ago. The people we are bringing are thinking about winning national championships. I am excited about where the program is going."

The 2016 NCAA Division II Track & Field Outdoor Championships will begin on March 26 in Bradenton, Fla. and an official preview for the completion can be found on in the days leading up to the championships.