Schweizer, Ward aim to add to championship pedigrees at indoor NCAA championships

Schweizer has plenty of experience at NCAA championship events, while Ward will make his first appearance at indoor nationals.
Maneater File Photo

Karissa Schweizer and Ja’Mari Ward have established themselves as Missouri’s best ever in their respective events this indoor track and field season. From March 9-10 in College Station, Texas, they will have the chance to prove themselves on the national stage at the NCAA championships.

For Schweizer, 2018 has been yet another chapter in her highly decorated track and field and cross-country career. The senior broke program records in all three distance running events: the mile, 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters.

Despite running the second-fastest mile in the country in the regular season and running a split that would have broken the NCAA record in the distance as part of the distance medley relay at the Southeastern Conference championships, Schweizer will not compete in the race at nationals. This is in order to save her energy and focus on the 3,000 meter and 5,000 meter runs.

“After [breaking the school record in the mile] I’ve been pretty content with not running the mile at NCAA’s, just knowing it would be a lot on my body to run the mile [in addition to my other races],” Schweizer said.

Schweizer holds the top times in the country this year in both races, including the NCAA record in the 3,000, making her a favorite to add to her haul of three national championships across track and field and cross country.

Schweizer tasted disappointment in the 3,000 at last year’s NCAA championships, finishing second to University of Colorado then-sophomore Dani Jones by 0.13 seconds, the second-slimmest national championship margin in the event’s history.

“I think from last year to this year I’m a totally different runner,” Schweizer said. “[At last year’s NCAA championship], I took the lead in the 3,000 and I wasn’t comfortable with that, and I think at this point I’ve been taking the lead in a lot of my races.”

Jones did not qualify to defend her title in the race this year after finishing 19th in the country in the race in the regular season. Only runners with top-16 times or scores in each individual event receive NCAA championship berths.

Schweizer rebounded in a big way from last season’s disappointment, improving her time by about 28 seconds to break the collegiate record on Feb. 3 before winning the SEC championship, her second straight, on Feb. 24. Schweizer’s record-breaking time of 8:41.60 on Feb. 3 is more than 14 seconds better than the next-fastest time in the country this season, held by University of New Hampshire senior Elinor Purrier.

While Schweizer has been peerless in the 3,000 this season, she faces a stiff challenge in the defense of her 2017 5,000-meter title from University of New Mexico sophomore Ednah Kurgat. Schweizer edged Kurgat by less than two seconds to win the 5,000 in 15:17.31 at a meet in Boston in early December, and their two times have stood as the best in the country all season by more than 17 seconds.

Schweizer and Kurgat’s times were the fifth and sixth fastest, respectively, in NCAA history, but Missouri distance and mid-distance running assistant coach Marc Burns told the Columbia Daily Tribune last month that it may take a record-breaking performance for Schweizer to defeat Kurgat for a second time. The current NCAA record of 15:12.22 was set in 2015 by Providence College’s Emily Sisson.

Schweizer will attempt to become the fifth woman to win national championships in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters in the same year.

Ward exploded onto the collegiate track and field scene as a freshman in 2017, winning the SEC and Pan-American Junior titles in the outdoor long jump after redshirting the indoor season. He faltered in his first ever indoor long jump appearance in January 2018, though, fouling all three of his attempts at the Columbia Challenge in New York City.

“[The Columbia Challenge result] was me trying to figure everything out myself instead of listening to what my coach was saying,” Ward said. “Since then, I just do what he says, and let him change up things that I’m trying to do on my own.”

Ward recovered to jump 7.71 meters at the Tyson Invitational on Feb.10 before breaking the school record with a 7.97-meter jump at the Missouri Collegiate Challenge on Feb. 16. After a fifth-place finish at the SEC championships in which he avoided fouling on any of his attempts for the first time this season, Ward finished the regular season tied for fifth nationally in the event.

Ohio State University senior Zack Bazile is the national leader by a 10th of a meter, having jumped 8.13 meters on Feb. 9. Ward is only the second Tiger to qualify for the event since 1978.

The long jump is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on March 9, with Schweizer’s 5,000-meter race following at 8:25. The women’s 3,000 is March 10 at 6:25 p.m.

Edited by Joe Noser |

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