NJCAA DI Team Battle Projection: South Plains Men, New Mexico Women Favored

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The NJCAA DI Championships are live on FloTrack this Thursday through Saturday, May 18-20, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Tune in here, check out the top individuals to watch here, and read on for info on the team battles. Team projections were calculated by using athletes' season-best marks through indoor and outdoor track in 2017.

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Men's Team Battle: Can Iowa Central Dethrone South Plains?


South Plains has won nine consecutive NJCAA DI titles; is it time for a new men's team champion? Iowa Central would say "yes." Both teams are projected to score over 100 points in the team race, with South Plains looking to score more than 10 points in six different events (800m, 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles, long jump, triple jump, javelin) and Iowa Central able to score in the double digits in five different events (3K steeplechase, 110m hurdles, high jump, triple jump, hammer throw). 

Both programs are diverse: South Plains can score in 13 of 22 events, while Iowa Central is capable of scoring in at least 16 events. South Plains' biggest strength is in the hurdles: It has the three best 400m hurdlers in the NJCAA this year, led by defending champion Okeen Williams (50.75 SB), and is projected to advance four hurdlers to the finals. The numbers are similar in the 110m hurdles, as three South Plains athletes should make the final, though Iowa Central's freshman Malik Beverly ranks No. 1 with his season-best 13.78.

​Watch Okeen Williams win the 400m hurdles at the 2016 NJCAA Championships:



The 800m final could be crucial: South Plains' Robert Downs Jr., the 2016 indoor national champion, is ranked No. 1 with his season-best 1:51.12 (converted from 1:51.45 run at altitude), but a deep field means he could score anywhere from 10 to two points -- and that's if he makes the final, something he was unable to accomplish last outdoor season. Wal Khat of North Iowa Area is the defending indoor champion, while prep star Elias Gedyon of Trinidad State won the 1K indoor national title and has transitioned well to the half mile outdoors.

​Projected men's team scores:

PLACE SCHOOL POINTS
1 South Plains 115
2 Iowa Central 108
3 Barton County 84.75
4 Hinds 72
5 Cloud County 63
6 Central Arizona 50
7 Butler 48.75
8 Paradise Valley 46
9 Western Texas 41
10 Iowa Western 23

Women's Team Battle: New Mexico Looks Poised For Team Title


At last year's championships, Iowa Central Community College defeated New Mexico Junior College 148-107, but this weekend's title run favors the T-Birds, the only team projected to score more than 100 points. Iowa Central is currently projected evenly with Barton County, Central Arizona, and Coffeyville to score in the 76-66 point range.

New Mexico is projected to score in 14 of 22 events, with double digits in five events (triple jump, 4x100m, 200m, 1500m, 3K steeplechase). Freshman Esther Gitahi will be a key cog for the T-Birds: She is ranked No. 2 in both the 1500m and 5k. Her best marks are 4:31.02 (converted from altitude mark of 4:34.86) and 17:21.84 (converted from altitude mark of 17:36.20), which put her within striking distance of NJCAA leaders Susan Ejore, the defending champion for 1500m, and Kaitlyn Shoemaker, who placed seventh last year in the 5K finals but improved her best to 17:12 this year.

​New Mexico's Esther Gitahi will challenge defending 1500m champion Susan Ejore this weekend. Watch Ejore's 2016 NJCAA win:



​Projected women's team scores:

PLACE TEAM POINTS
1 New Mexico JC 109.5
2 Barton County 76
3 Iowa Central 75
4 Central Arizona 70
5 Coffeyville 66
6 South Plains 59
7 Cloud County 58
8 Iowa Western 57.5
8 Western Texas 57.5
10 Monroe College 52

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