Ball State’s track and field team will get the opportunity to face some of the nation’s best this weekend in Lexington, Kentucky, as they compete against 21 other teams in the Kentucky Invitational.
A few of the schools the Cardinals will compete against are Mid-American Conference opponent Akron, Cincinnati, Dayton, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana Tech, Louisville and Ohio State.
Kentucky, the host school, finished 12th in the 2016 Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships and spent time at the top of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s NCAA ranking throughout last season.
This season Kentucky brings back many talented athletes, including senior Sha’Keela Saunders, who equaled the No.10 long jump in indoor collegiate history by reaching 22-feet, 1-inch (6.73 meters) in Bloomington to win the Hoosier Open. The Wildcats also feature Olympian and NCAA Champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, who finished first in the 200m with a time of 23.55 seconds and placed second in the 60m hurdles with a time of 8.10 in the Hoosier Open.
Ball State head coach Brian Etelman said his focus is on the Cardinals, not the name on the uniforms in the next lane.
"We talk about not letting any team, whether it’s Kentucky or Kent State, affect how we take care of business and the results that we get,” Etelman said. “I don’t really care to be honest with you, I ran at that level and we talk to our kids about not having wide eyes when competing at a place like that, so they get it, I’m not very concerned about it.”
The Cardinals have a young but talented team, and even early in their 2016-2017 campaign, already have three athletes who have automatic qualifying times for the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Freshman Jasmine Harris is currently No. 1 in the MAC in the 60m hurdles with an 8.61 time, sophomore Jazmin Harris is third in the 60m hurdles with an 8.71 time and sophomore Regan Lewis has the best high jump in the conference with a 5-foot, 8.75-inch jump.
Ball State also has three other athletes who have top five times in the MAC but have not met the automatic qualifying time yet, including freshman Emily Tromp and freshman Peyton Kneadler, who have the No. 4 and No. 5 top times (8.61 and 8.71) in the 800m run, and sophomore Peyton Stewart, who is third in the 60m with a 7.64 time, which is only .02 seconds off from the automatic qualifying time of 7.62.
“Most but not all of our talent is very young," Etelman said. "I always throw around how all my best players are teenagers. So it certainly means that the future is bright but more importantly, the future is now and if that is what we have then that is what we have and we just work on being the best we can be every day and try not to sell the ‘hey, we’re going to be really good when everyone matures’ kind of thing. Three years from now is three years from now but today is today.”
The Kentucky Invitational begins Jan. 13 and runs through Jan. 14.