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NCAA Midwest Regionals: Better than the best
Renne Dunn and 11 other University of Montana track and field standouts are competing this weekend at the Midwest Regionals in Lincoln, Neb. Dunn, a senior from LaCenter, Wash., is competing in the long jump and the triple jump. The top five finishers automatically advance to the NCAA championships, June 11-14 at Sacramento, Calif.
Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

UM athletes aim to improve on personal records to reach NCAA meet

Renee Dunn has won conference championships, set records and established herself as the finest women's horizontal jumper in the history of the University of Montana.

The trick now, is turning her best into something even better.

The only prize to elude Dunn is a berth in the NCAA track and field championships. That's what she'll shoot for on Friday and Saturday, when she joins 11 fellow Grizzlies at the inaugural Midwest Regionals in Lincoln, Neb.

Dunn was the only UM athlete to qualify for regionals in two events. She'll compete in the long jump and triple jump, where she holds both school records but will need to extend them to have a shot at nationals.

"I've always wanted to jump far enough to make nationals," said Dunn, a senior from LaCenter, Wash. "Hopefully, I'll give it a good run for the money."

In a new format adopted this year, NCAA qualifying will be held this weekend at four regional meets across the country. The top five finishers at each regional automatically advance to the NCAA championships, June 11-14 at Sacramento, Calif. In addition, six at-large berths in each event go to athletes who don't qualify at regionals, based on season performances.

Dunn's hopes rest on cracking the top five in either jump.

Her best chance appears to be Friday's long jump, but she'll need to pop a big one, probably more than 21 feet - well beyond her school record of 20 feet, 5/ inches, set in early May. Dunn has jumped consistently beyond 20 feet this spring; she leaped 20-3 two weeks ago at the Big Sky Championships in Bozeman, only to place second when Montana State senior Lacy Hinzpeter set an all-time Big Sky mark of 20-9.

Dunn also faces a numbers crunch, because the Midwest happens to be the most competitive region for the women's long jump. Hinzpeter comes in ranked sixth, Dunn 11th. They would rank second and third, respectively, in the West Regional, where the remaining Big Sky schools have been placed.

Dunn won her second straight Big Sky title in the triple jump, setting a school record of 41-7. But that only ranks 14th in the region. That competition is on Saturday.

"It's going to be tough, I know that," Dunn said. "I'm right there in the long jump. There's no reason I can't break 21 feet. I feel like I'm peaking at the right time. I've been coming on in the triple jump too, but the fifth-ranked mark is 44 feet."

"If I PR (set personal records) in both events, I'll be pleased," Dunn said. "All I can do is give it my best, and see if that's good enough."

Fellow senior Suzanne Krings of Helena has provisionally qualified for the NCAA championships in the heptathlon, where she ranks 15th in the nation and will certainly make the field of roughly 24 competitors. The heptathlon, decathlon and 10,000 meters are exempt from regional competition. Their national entrants are determined by qualifying marks, as used to be the case for all events.

Krings, who began her UM career as a record-setting pole vaulter, will be in action this weekend, however, trying to qualify for nationals in the 100-meter hurdles. Her school-record time of 13.69 seconds, which won the Big Sky title, ranks 12th in the region.

The only other UM athlete who appears likely to make the NCAA championships is senior Ted Cordeiro, who competes in the men's hammer throw on Friday. Cordeiro, a Cascade product, won the Big Sky title with ease, extending his own school record to 209-8. That ranks sixth in the regional and 17th in the nation, giving Cordeiro a solid chance at an at-large berth if he doesn't make the top five at regionals.

"Ted is going to go all-out, for sure, but he's looking pretty good no matter what happens," said Montana coach Tom Raunig.

B.J. McKay of Polson will join Cordeiro in the hammer on Friday. UM's other regional competitors on Friday are Jas Gill and Dan Casey in the men's high jump; Hollie Tyler in the women's shot put, and Sarah Lenoch, Kari Wilson and Amy Weddell in the women's pole vault. Lenoch is a Kalispell product, while Wilson has lived in Deer Lodge and Corvallis.

On Saturday, junior Doug Lefler and sophomore Dane Brubaker compete in the javelin. Lefler, a former Frenchtown standout, moved up to eighth in the region two weeks ago when he won the Big Sky title at 221-2, a school record for the restricted flight javelin.

In addition to Hinzpeter, several MSU athletes rank in the regional top 10. Dillon's Lyle Weese and Plains' Casey Jermyn are first and eighth, respectively, in the men's 5,000, and Weese is second in the steeplechase. Other Bobcat top 10 qualifiers are Carrie Damschen, fourth in the women's 400 hurdles; Ariana Lee, fifth in the women's 5,000; Kalispell's Michelle Hodge and Cortney Ellis, seventh in the women's pole vault; and Jen Allen of Billings and Chrissy McKinstry of Frenchtown, first and sixth in the women's hammer.

Also qualifying for regionals were Jermyn in the steeplechase; Kalispell's Kevin Clary in the steeplechase and 1,500; and Bigfork's Amanda Emslie and Hamilton's Lindsay Gill in the women's javelin.

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