Shapard advances to NCAA Track Championships

By By Bryan Chouinard

By Bryan Chouinard

The U track and field team sent five representatives to Northridge, Calif., to represent the Utes in the NCAA Western Regional Championships, hosted by Cal-State Northridge.

It was a solid opening day for the Utes on Friday, starting off with Josefin Berg posting a Top-10 finish in the hammer throw. This finish qualified Berg, a candidate for an at-large bid, to reach the NCAA Championships.

The strongest Ute performance of the day came from Chelsea Shapard. The Park City native posted one of the four fastest times of the day in the 400-meter hurdles, winning her heat with a time of 59.61 seconds.

“It wasn’t her prettiest race,” said head coach Kyle Kepler, “But she did what she needed to do to advance.”

It was much of the same on day two for the junior, who managed to shave .49 seconds off her day one time, which was good enough for a third place overall, and an automatic bid to nationals.

Finishing ahead of Shaphard in the 400 hurdles was Lorraine King from Washington State with a time of 58.67 and Nicole Leach, a junior out of UCLA, who blew away the competition with her time of 55.47. All Top-10 finishers receive automatic bids to the NCAA Championships.

Three other Utes competed on the second day, two of which competed in the 1,500 meter run. Alyssa Abbott and Chelsea DiGrazia both ran in the event and finished in ninth and 11th respectively, with times of 4:26.33 seconds for Abbott and 4:30.14 for DiGrazia. Michelle Turner of Washington won the event with a time of 4:14.94.

“The 1,500 was a fast race, and we got off to a slow start,” Kepler said.

With Abbott only a sophomore, and DiGrazia a junior, both should be strong contributors for Kepler’s squad in the future.

Kepler watched senior Sahyla Houlihan run the final race of her collegiate career Saturday. Houlihan qualified in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and recorded a time of 11:24.58, which was good enough for 33rd in her final race as a Ute.

“We’re proud of her,” Kepler said. “She was a first-time NCAA regional qualifier, and she ran her last collegiate race on a pretty big stage.”

While most of the team now looks to the off-season and preparations for next year, there is still work to be done for Shapard at nationals.

“Chelsea has some areas she needs to improve in and she knows that,” Kepler said, “So, we’ll hit the track and work it out before we head to the championship.”

Shapard will be facing stiff competition both within the Western Region as well as outside of it. Alabama’s Trish Bartholomew ran the fastest time in any regional with a time of 51.58.

The NCAA Championships will be hosted by Drake University June 11 to June 14 in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Shapard continues to the NCAA Championships after finishing third in the NCAA Regionals.