Jaci Smith Qualifies to NCAA Finals at 5000 Meters

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. Backed by an Academy-record of 15:38.44, Air Force senior Jaci Smith secured her return to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships this evening (May 25), during the final day of competition at the West Preliminary meet in Sacramento. Smith, one of five Falcons to compete at Hornet Stadium on Saturday, easily crushed her own program standard in the 5000-meter run to advance to next month’s NCAA finals in Austin.

Smith took the lead before the first lap was complete and maintained that advantage over the next 12 minutes, easily controlling the pace of the 21-runner heat. As the lead pack separated itself from the rest of the field during the final laps, Smith stayed safely within the qualifying group of five that earned an automatic bid into the finals. Deleting nearly 21 seconds off of her own Academy record, Smith finished third in the opening heat to secure her spot to Austin. In fact, her time of 15:38.44 was not only the third-fastest mark in the first heat, but the third-fastest time in the full 43-runner event.

Sophomore Maria Mettler represented the Falcons in the second heat of the 5000-meter run, crossing the finish line in 16:18.27 – the second-fastest time of her career – to finish 15th in her group and 27th overall.

A pair of seniors – Nathan Thomas, Jacob Bilvado – also competed in the second heat of the men’s 5000-meter run this evening at Hornet Stadium. Unlike the women’s competition, the second heat of the men’s race was markedly faster than the opening heat. Thomas, competing in his second long-distance race of the weekend, used a strong closing speed over the final laps to complete the race in 14:07.52 – a mark just shy of his personal best. Thomas finished 16th in his heat – and 17th in the full 48-runner field, while Bilvado posted a time of 14:13.88 to finish 17th in the heat and 24th overall.

In the only Falcons’ only field event of the day, senior Sam Hinegardner narrowly clipped the 6’7” bar on his third attempt and exited the high jump competition – his second West Prelim final of the weekend.

The collegiate season comes to a close on June 5-8, when the qualifiers from this weekend’s two preliminary sites converge on Austin, Texas, for the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Smith will be joined at Mike A. Myers Stadium by junior Michael Rhoads, who advanced to the final site in the 800-meter run.