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Preview: Four Harvard Athletes to Compete at NCAA Championships

On Your Mark!
Crimson hurdlers, pictured in a 2015 dual meet with Yale and Princeton, wait with much anticipation at the starting block.

Following an historic Ivy League Heptagonal Championship, the Harvard women’s track and field team will travel to College Station as Texas A&M hosts the NCAA Indoor Championships this Friday. Representing the Crimson in the two-day event will be senior Nikki Okwelogu, sophomore Gabby Thomas, and freshmen Zoe Hughes and Judy Pendergast.

The foursome arrives to the NCAA Indoor Championships on a high note after a confident and record-setting Heps title.

Thomas, a sprinter and Olympic trial qualifier, enters the preliminary round of the 200m dash seeded sixth. The Florence, Mass., native put forth a great showing at Heps, emerging with a second consecutive 60m dash victory as well as the 200m crown. Thomas is enjoying a lot of recent momentum in the latter event after setting an indoor Ivy League record of 22.88 seconds, the seventh fastest time in the country, as well as a new indoor school record at the meet two weekends ago.

“Gabby is just an unreal athlete and her natural talent is actually unbelievable,” freshman hurdler Karina Joiner said. “I have no doubt she’ll go on to win meets on a large scale because her work ethic and talent combine to make her a very elite and versatile athlete.”

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At the conclusion of the Ivy Heps, Thomas was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Track Performer. This week, she also received the USTFCCCA award for Female Track Athlete of the Year in the Northeast Region.

The next competitor representing the Crimson is the pentathlete, Hughes, who ran in the championship winning 4x400 relay squad at the Ivy League Championships. The rookie is Harvard’s first Ivy Indoor Heps champion in the event since 2009, as she recorded the second-most points in Harvard indoor history with 4,093.

“I’m really looking forward to the NCAAs and maybe setting a new PR,” Hughes said. “I’m also excited to see the other girls compete for titles too.”

Her personal records are 19’2.5” in the long jump, 5’7” in the high jump, 61.20 in the 400-meter hurdles, and 4971 in heptathlon. At Heps, Hughes’ 4093 pentathlon points were good for 13th in Division I this season.

“You can tell Zoe is going to be great because she really wants to learn in practice and she puts a lot of effort into changing her techniques to make them better,” Joiner said. “She takes feedback well and applies it to training.”

Hughes, in the footsteps of her teammate Thomas, enjoyed the USTFCCCA award for Women’s Field Athlete of the Year.

Distance runner Pendergast won her first Heps title back in late February in the 5000m event, posting a time of 16:07.26. Pendergast is Harvard’s first Heps winner in the event since 2006. Pendergast’s personal records include times of 4:49.30 in 1600-meter contest and 10:07.18 in 3200-meter race. The Naperville, Ill., native is seeded No. 8 in the 5000-meter for the NCAAs.

Seeded at No. 16 in the shot put event is thrower Okwelogu. The senior is coming off yet another Ivy Heps shot put title, completing her four-year Heps sweep of the event, with a distance of 16.52 meters. The Fresno, Calif., native also holds the Ivy League record in shotput.

Okwelogu won Nigeria a shot put gold medal in the African Championships and also represented the nation in the Rio Olympics.

Over the course of her Harvard career, the soon-to-be graduate has posted her share of records and is only the second student in the Ivy League to claim four straight Ivy Heps shot put titles. As a first-year, the Olympian wasted no time leaving an impression on the league, as she set an Ivy League record in a discus throw of 53.31m.

Her current personal best is 56.75m. Okwelogu is no stranger to the NCAA Championships, as this weekend, she looks to improve on last year’s third place podium finish for shot put.

Looking ahead to the weekend, Harvard will be in search of one of a few coveted NCAA Indoor Championship titles as they utilize the momentum from their dominant Ivy Heps performance.

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