Video: David Needs Interview
Link: Live Stream and Stats
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Four Carson-Newman athletes are set to make their trek down to Bradenton, Fla. for the 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships as Kevin Snead (Richmond, Va.), Tanner Stepp (Jefferson City, Tenn.), Tori Gaul (Salisbury, N.C.) and Tiana Mills (Chattanooga, Tenn.) look to bring home individual national championships when competition commences Thursday afternoon.
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 coach David Needs sent three participants to the 2016 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in Pittsburg, K.S. from March 11-13 of this year.
"The stakes are larger and they are always going to be larger at the Championships," Needs said. "We are excited for the opportunity, because like I've told a thousand people, you are excited if you can get one and the fact that we got four in means we are blessed."
Gaul will kick things off for the Eagles Thursday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the women's pole vault. The sophomore, 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 and Southeast Region women's champion in the event is currently ranked 20th in Division II.
Recently named to her third-career Southeast Region team, Gaul will be making her second trip to an NCAA Championship. 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.
Mills will then be the next C-N athlete to compete a day later at 4:45 p.m. Friday afternoon. The junior will be making her first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships after being named to her fourth-career all-region squad in the triple jump.
The junior 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.
Stepp will then compete just a few minutes after Mills takes off as the high jumper's round of action is set to begin at 5:05 p.m. on Friday as well. The three-time All-American and four-time all-region performer 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 jumper'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 C-N record holder currently sits fourth in the Division II polls for the men's high jump.
Stepp 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).
Carson-Newman's final participant at the 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships will be Snead in both the men's 100 and 200 meter runs.
The sprinter 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 begins.
The All-Southeast Region selection's fastest time in the 200 meter dash 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.
The junior will be coming into the 100 meter dash ranked first overall and the 200 meter trial ranked sixth.
The prelim sectors for both runs will be held on Thursday at 6:55 p.m. (100 meter) and Friday at 5:35 p.m. (200 meter) while the finals rounds will be held back-to-back on Saturday beginning at 6:35 p.m.
"We would like to say that Kevin needs to run what he has been running all year, but he has higher aspirations than that," Needs said. "We aren't going there wanting to do what we have been doing and to just be okay. We are wanting to take it to another level. It's never about maintaining. It's about being the very best that he can be at the right time."
If Snead or any other Eagle athlete competing at the Outdoor Championships wins their event, they will represent the seventh individual national championship in the history of the Carson-Newman athletic department and the first for track and field since Larry Cooke accomplished the feat in the men's long jump back at the NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championships in 1977.
The potential feat would also register the first national championship of any kind for the SAC as a sponsored sport.
"We went to the Penn Relays a few weeks ago and competed in front of 47,000 people. What we said to our guys was that they will not ever compete on a bigger stage than they will here, even at nationals," Needs said. "We have taken them to the Jesse Owens [Meet] and we have taken them to Greensborough so that they can be exposed to the big meets to enable them to run great at the right time."
Stay up to date on all three days of the 2016 NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships by viewing the live stream and watching the live results here and fans are encouraged to follow @CN_Track on twitter for all Carson-Newman updates.