NCAA West Preliminary Round Updates: Saturday

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12:24 a.m.
'Real world' will have to wait for Helgren
Jordan Helgren's summer schedule suddenly looks a little different.

Just a week removed from receiving her diploma, the retailing major is set to begin a summer internship in Milwaukee this week.

Turns out she'll already be asking for some time off.

Thanks to her best effort in more than three years, the senior earned her first-ever NCAA championships berth with a 12th-place finish in the triple jump Saturday at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.

Her season-best leap of 41 feet, 8 1/2 inches came on her first attempt of the competition. The mark, Helgren's best since a wind-aided 42-0 1/2 performance in 2009, stood up through an additional five rounds of jumps to earn her the NCAA berth that comes along with a top-12 finish.

"It was my first jump and usually that's my best one," Helgren said. "The one-and-done thing really has a meaning for me. It felt so good to hit that first one and give me some confidence. 

"I'm just glad my number stayed up there."

The performance continued a late-season surge for Helgren, who's battled a nagging foot injury and even tweaked her jumping style during the season to compensate. An eighth-place showing at the Big Ten championships two weeks ago broke her string of five consecutive top-five finishes in conference competition.

"A month ago, I was in a rut, struggling, and I couldn't get out," Helgren said. "I switched legs in the triple jump halfway through the outdoor season and was really having a hard time, until Big Tens came. I switched back to the other leg and things went so much better. 

"I'm not complaining about how things turned out."

Now, Helgren will be looking to clear her calendar June 6-9 for a trip to Des Moines, Iowa.

"This is absolutely incredible," Helgren said. "I coudln't wish for anything else. It's the cherry on top of my entire athletic career."


12:02 a.m.
Ahmed takes step toward goal
It's understandable that Mohammed Ahmed's first move would be to the front. After all, that's where the Wisconsin junior spends most of his time.

It took a reminder from his coach that there was no need to do the heavy lifting in race that required only a top-12 finish in order to be considered a winner.

Assistant coach Mick Byrne's message was received, as Ahmed settled in and secured a third-place finish in his heat in 14 minutes, 7.45 seconds to secure a return trip to the NCAA outdoor championships.

Teammates Dan Chenoweth (14:19.32) and Maverick Darling (14:30.35) finished 15th and 17th overall, respectively.

"He said to relax," Ahmed said of Byrne's message. "I heard him on the frontstretch. He said, 'Relax, relax,' and I knew I didn't need to lead. So I just relaxed and let someone else lead and Cam Levins (of Southern Utah) was willing to do it.

"Whenever I could stretch it out a little bit, I pushed it, but it was a slow race and I was just waiting for that big move."

Ahmed covered the change in pace late in the race and finished on the heels of fellow Canadian Levins and runner-up Chris Kwiatkowski of Oregon.

"Just staying on my feet was the No. 1 thing in my head," Ahmed said. "I almost went down somewhere in the middle of the race. Just hold your position and don't let people push you around, don't fall and get ready for that move. That's what I was keeping alert for."

Now he turns his attention to achieving one of the few goals he's yet to fulfill as a Badger: winning an individual national title.

"I'm going to go out there and enjoy it," Ahmed said of the national meet. "It's a great experience, always fun, but I'm toward the end of my collegiate career and I came here to win an NCAA title.

"There's really good runners out there, but that's what I'm here for and that's what everyone races for, to win. I'm going to go out there, compete and give myself the best shot I have to win."


8:50 p.m.
Finnerty fine in impressive 1500 meters win
Someone who has been left on the outside looking in each of the last two seasons, Rob Finnerty enjoyed the best view in the house Saturday.

The Wisconsin junior left the disappointment of years past -- as well as the competition -- in his dust with an impressive win in the quarterfinals of the 1500 meters at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.

Finnerty kicked down Arizona's Lawi Lalang over the final 100 meters to close out a run of 3:42.93, emerging as the top qualifier from the West Region for the upcoming NCAA outdoor championships.

It's the first national meet berth for Finnerty, who was 13th two years ago when the preliminary round competition was last held in Austin, Texas. The top 12 finishers advanced to the NCAA championships.

Last year, Finnerty endured another close call with a 15th-place finish in the opening-round meet.

"I think a big part of this meet is that, the last two years, I've been one of the first guys out," Finnerty said. "This time around, I just told myself that I'm going to run my own race and not screw around for 1200 meters and then try to kick.

"I've gained the confidence that I can win running races how I want to race them, rather than running somebody else's race."

Just as he did in the first round Thursday, Finnerty helped set the tone for the race -- rather than allowing himself to be dictated by it. He led early before tucking in behind Lalang and allowing him to break the stiff breeze blowing down the back straightaway.

Then, when the moment was right, he put his strength on display by running down Lalang to win the heat.

"I feel like I've got a good hold on what you need to do out front and then kick off of that," Finnerty said of his confidence in running up front. 

"I think a lot of these guys are guys that have gotten into the 1500 because they have this great change of gears," he added. "Not in a bad way, but I think I've been pigeonholed into this event because we've got a team of 5K and 10K guys and we need somebody in the 1500.

"I think I've just had to develop my own style of racing because of that."

Qualifying for the NCAA championships is always in style, and it's something Finnerty has been striving for since joining the Badgers as a heralded high school miler.

Now, after putting together strong performances in back-to-back races, Finnerty has eyes on doing more than just showing up in Des Moines.

"I think heading into NCAAs," he said, "this is going to give me a lot of confidence going forward."


3:50 p.m.
Margin slim, but reward great for Badgers' Block
For all intents in purposes, there is no difference between finishing first and finishing 12th at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.

There are no trophies for the winners, who instead enjoy the same reward as everyone else among the top dozen finishers -- an opportunity to compete for hardware in two weeks at the NCAA outdoor championships.

That's why Wisconsin's Dan Block walked away a winner Saturday after scoring a 12th-place finish in the men's discus. Thanks to the razor-thin margin by which he earned his first NCAA championships trip, however, Block celebrated simply by exhaling.

The sophomore posted a mark of 185 feet, 11 inches on his second-to-last throw, jumping Iowa's Gabe Hull for the final qualifying spot by just two centimeters. 

"It wasn't a good feeling. I wish I would have just thrown farther, but I'll take it," Block said. "All week going into the meet I said I didn't care if I got 12th or first, but it would have been nice to be first and not have to worry about it."

Block and Hull's marks were so close that, when converted from their metric measurements, both equated to 185-11.

"Two centimeters," Block said. "Gabe Hull is a true freshman out of Iowa and he really stepped up."

Block was well aware of the distance from the 13th position he occupied after four rounds of throws and where Hull stood in 12th.

"I was aware, I just didn't want to think about it because it was making me too nervous," Block said. "This is more nervous than I've ever been, and I've been in some pretty big meets."

In addition to his own anxiety, another day of windy conditions inside Mike A. Myers Stadium was something Block -- and his competition -- had to contend with. Much as it did in the women's competition Friday, a stiff breeze blew straight down the throwing sector and into the  competitors' faces.

"If you ask an excellent discus thrower they're going to say that's a great wind," Block said. "But I think the way it comes off the end of the stadium, it gets really strong up high.

"If you put (the disc) up high, it's just going to push it right back."

That was the case with redshirt freshman Alex Thompson's three attempts in his flight of the trials. Thompson finished 31st overall at 169-1.

That the Big Ten champion could throw just short of 186 feet and barely make the cut spoke to the quality of the competition at the West Region's preliminary-round site. Had he been competing at the East Region site in Jacksonville, Fla., Block's mark of 185-11 would have been good for fourth place.

"It was pretty incredible," Block said. "Everybody showed up today."
ON WISCONSIN