PITTSBURGH, Kansas — Over 1,400 student-athletes spread across 63 institutions packed the Robert W. Plaster Center for the third annual Gorilla Classic, hosted by Pittsburgh State University.
The setting and competition provided an ideal environment for the Cloud County Community College track and field teams in what was the T-Birds final tune-up prior to next weekend's Region VI/KJCCC Championships.
Cloud County's athletes responded well to the big stage as two school records fell, personal bests were set, and a handful of T-Birds made their way onto the NJCAA national qualifying lists.
"We're stepping our game up a little as we are getting into the championship part of our season," said Cloud County head men's track coach, Harry Kitchener. "We hit a lot of really good, quality marks. We're looking forward to next week's Region VI and conference meet."
The men's distance medley relay team of sophomores Moses Dirane, Thobile Mosito, Stephen Marindich and Darrien Lipscomb shattered the previous school record (10:07.39) the quartet set a season ago. Their new mark of 9:59.52 earned them third place in Saturday's meet and is currently the fastest among all NJCAA national qualifying teams.
Sophomore sprinter Jatoria McGirt eclipsed her own school record in the 60-meter dash. She ran a personal best time of 7.54 seconds in the prelims and took second overall out of 108 runners in the event with a time of 7.58 in the finals.
Sophomore thrower Gabbreil Harris became the NJCAA national leader in the weight throw Saturday when she took first place overall with a PR throw of 59-feet, 7-inches.
"She's been progressing throughout the year and has been having a new personal best with each meet," said Cloud County head women's track coach, Ted Schmitz. "Last week was the first time she got over 17 meters and this was her first time over 18 meters. The technique is getting better, she's getting stronger and I expect her to keep throwing better as the year goes on."
In total, the men's and women's team combined for nine new national qualifying marks.
On the women's side, freshman Nikki Kraaijeveld qualified in the 200-meter dash with a time of 25.51, while sophomore distance runner Ariel St. John, competing in just her second meet of the season, crossed off qualifying marks in the 600-yard run (1:28.63, 15th) and 800-meter run (2:23.67, 20th).
As for the men's team, Mosito added to his laundry list of national qualifying marks as he finished 10th in the 800-meter run (1:56.97) and 11th in the mile run (4:20.25). His freshman teammate, Longins Kouri, finished fifth in the men's 800-meter with a national qualifying time of 1:55.36.
Thom Reynders earned 12th in the 3,000-meter run with a run of 8:52.62 to ink his name on the national qualifying list, as well.
The Cloud County men's team also had three field athletes post national qualifying marks. Murphy Bavinga placed 14th in the triple jump with a qualifying mark of 46'3.5'' and freshman thrower Levi Armon, the top high school shot put thrower among Kansas high school athletes a year ago, qualified in the event with a throw of 48'7.50''.
Rounding out Cloud's new national qualifiers was Louis Humbert, who vaulted 14'5.25'' out at the Concordia University Classic in Seward, Neb.
Other notable performances by Cloud County athletes over the two days in Pittsburgh included an event win by Kyle Alcine in the men's high jump. He topped Hutchinson's Richard Newman to earn the top spot with a PR of 6'11.50''.
The men's 4X400-meter relay team of Lipscomb, Marindich, Tanner Brown and Lesley Mahlakoane ran a season-best time of 3:17.66, as did the women's 4X400-meter relay team (Chanice Forbes, Ageonia Wilkerson, McGirt and St. John) as they cut their time down to 3:54.79; the eighth best time in the nation.
Marindich also finished sixth in the men's 800-meter run, improving his No. 1 ranking in the NJCAA to a time of 1:52.45. Dirane's fifth-place finish in the mile (4:13.27) moved him to the top of the NJCAA national qualifying list in the event, as well.
Cloud County will now focus on next week's Region VI/KJCCC Multis set for Feb. 15-16 in Highland and the Region VI/KJCCC meet on Sunday, Feb. 18 in Manhattan.