Gopher 4x100 Travels to NCAA Championships

Go Gophers!
Okoroji and the Gophers feel they have a good chance at making finals.

Go Gophers!
Okoroji and the Gophers feel they have a good chance at making finals.
Go Gophers!

June 4, 2012

NCAA Championships
Date Wednesday, June 6-Saturday, June 9, 2012
4x100m Relay Prelims Wednesday, June 6 at 5:45 p.m.
4x100m Relay Finals Saturday, June 9 at 11:10 a.m.
Location Drake Stadium (Des Moines, Iowa)
TV ESPNU (Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Schedule Full Schedule | Heat Sheets
Complete Championships Information Click Here
Free Live Video Click Here
Live Stats Click here
Season Statistics 2012 Performance List | Top 10 List

The Minnesota 4x100-meter relay team of Todea-Kay Willis, Nyoka Giles, Chimerem Okoroji, and Kylie Peterson will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, for the 31st edition of the NCAA Women's Track & Field Championships. The Golden Gophers join a pool with 23 other qualifying relays competing for the nine spots in Saturday's final.

Eyes on the Prize
Heading into last week's NCAA West Preliminary Round meet, the Gopher 4x100m squad had finished no lower than third in competition this season. To advance to the NCAA Championships, they needed to either keep that trend going in their heat or be one of the three next-best teams. Kylie Peterson, the anchor, had the closest look at the results after she crossed the finish line.

"I knew (we qualified) once I looked at the scoreboard and saw our name in third," she said. "That was just exciting. I could see the rest of my team, and they all ran great. So I knew that we were ready to go and were right there."

The thrill of advancing to nationals was enough to draw a reaction even from normally reserved head coach Matt Bingle.

"I was really excited--I don't get very excited usually," he said. "They've been driving towards that all year. It was exciting for them. I rarely get excited, so I think they got a kick out of that."

In that race, the Gophers broke the school record they had set a few weeks earlier in Big Ten prelims. Their time of 44.32 seconds was the result of a full season of work.

"We knew we had it in us," Nyoka Giles said. "All of us were ready. We didn't aim to break the record--we aimed just to do our best, and it so happened that we broke the record again, so we were pretty excited about that."

The team's fastest race of the season came at the most important time. And at that point in the meet, the 4x100m was one of the Gophers' last chances to qualify anyone for the NCAA Championships. The foursome responded to the challenge with great execution.

"We didn't have anything to lose, so we really just decided, `Let's do this,'" lead-off runner Todea-Kay Willis said. "The handoffs were smoother. I got off to a great start. I didn't even know I had a gap until I gave it off to Nyoka. I was so excited. The baton went all the way around smoothly, so we executed that part pretty well."

The team seems to be peaking at the right time, and will look to raise the bar even higher this week. They will also look to improve upon their finish from last year--three of the four Gophers competed at nationals in 2011. This year's preparation has had a different feel for them.

"Last year we went and we were kind of seeded toward the bottom, so our goal was just to go out there and run, basically," Chimerem Okoroji said. "But this year, we're right in the middle of the pack, and we really do have a shot at making it to finals. So this is more of an exciting year, I think, because we actually have the capabilities to be in the top nine and get to run finals. ...We have a goal, and this is what we're working towards, to be in that top nine, to compete on Saturday."

No one could be happier about this opportunity than their coach.

"It's well deserved," Bingle said. "They really enjoy each other. It's fun to coach them. They're very different people, but as a group they've done a good job of jelling."

Chronological List of the 4x100m Team's 2012 Times
46.03, Aztec Invitational (3/16), 1st
45.22, Arkansas Invitational (3/31), 1st
45.96, Bulldog Invitational (4/14), 2nd
44.95, Steve Scott Invitational (4/29), 1st
44.55, Big Ten Championships (5/12), prelims, broke school record
44.73, Big Ten Championships (5/13), 3rd
44.32, NCAA West Preliminary Round (5/26), 7th, school record

Gopher NCAA History
This is the second straight year that Minnesota's 4x100m relay team has qualified for the NCAA Championships. Last year's squad of Willis, Giles, Okoroji, and Alena Brooks was the first 4x100 team in school history to make it that far.

The Gophers' highest team finish came in 2008 when they tied for 13th with a school-best 15 points. In 2011, Minnesota's NCAA Championships roster consisted of seven student-athletes competing in four individual events and the 4x100m relay.

NCAA Championships History
Drake University will play host to the Championships for the second consecutive year. Drake also hosted in 2008. Texas A&M has won the last three national titles, and is sending 12 entries in nine events this year. LSU holds the record for team championships with a total of 14, including 11 in a row between 1987 and 1997.

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