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Tide sends five to Des Moines

Morgan Hart

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The Alabama track and field team begins competition at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with competitors in the long jump and pole vault on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Five members of the Alabama track and field team arrived in Des Moines Monday with one thing in mind: leaving with national titles.

“The athletes that have made it this far have done exactly what we’ve asked of them, which is learning to compete and get the job done,” head coach Dan Waters said. “Hopefully this meet will draw something special out of them. Physically, they’re as ready as they can be, and the coaches have done a fantastic job of preparing them for the meet. I know they’ll have the great performances we expect out of them.”

For Krystle Schade, a national title is one of the only titles she lacks. Schade, a senior high jumper, spent the last four years with the Crimson Tide building a resume that includes being a three-time indoor All-American and a two-time outdoor All-American.

“I feel like I am as prepared as I can be,” Schade said. “I have trained hard all year for this meet. I’ve told myself that it’s my time to step up and be motivated.”

Schade broke the 29-year-old school record this season when she cleared 6 feet, 2 inches to win the women’s high jump on the final day of the SEC Indoor Championships. NCAA Champion and Olympian Disa Gisladottir set the previous record of 6-1.5.

Schade, the NCAA Indoor Runner-Up (2012) cleared 5-9.75 to place in the top 12 of her event at the NCAA East Regional Preliminary Round securing her spot in the NCAA Championships.

The top 12 competitors in each event of the NCAA East Region Preliminary Round, which took place in Jacksonville, Fl., automatically qualified along with the top 12 from the West Region for the NCAA Championships.

Schade said anything is possible at nationals.

“Coming into this meet knowing I have everyone wanting me to win does put tremendous pressure on me,” she said, referring to early predictions on her performance. “I never want to let my team, my fans or me down.”

Schade also said she feels all of her teammates have a shot to win.

Sophomore Kamal Fuller is among those joining Schade after finishing 11th in the men’s long jump at the East Region Preliminary to earn his spot in the NCAA Championship field for the second straight season.

Alexis Paine matched her personal best and school record height of 13-5.25 in the women’s pole vault — equaling the highest mark of the day in the East Region Preliminary. Paine broke the Alabama school record this season topping the previous record by three-fourths of an inch.

Tyler Campbell, senior high jumper, cleared 7-2.25 to secure his spot in the NCAA Championships on the final day of the East Region Preliminary. Campbell’s jump matched his season best and was the highest clearance of the day.

Senior Kaylon Eppinger will compete in the women’s heptathlon after her personal best score of 5,560 at the SEC Championships automatically qualified her for the event.

Following the East Region Preliminary Round, Waters said he was most pleased with the team’s focus, dedication and overall approach to the meet.

“I thought everyone competed extremely hard and was at, or better than their personal bests,” Waters said. “That’s how you’ve got to get through these types of qualifying rounds.”

Though it may be his first season as the Tide’s head coach, Waters is no stranger to the NCAA Championships. Before coming to Alabama, Waters was a member of the Texas A&M coaching staff for seven seasons, including the 2009-2010 men’s and women’s NCAA Outdoor Championship teams.

Waters said the team plans to head into the NCAA Championships with the same mindset they have had all year — to be a competitor and focus on getting the job done, “whether it be advancing or scoring points.”

Eppinger echoed those comments. Named second team All-American (2011), Eppinger is competing at the NCAA Championships for the second time.

The NCAA Championships will provide an opportunity to add another All-American honor and potential national title to the resumes of some of the Tide five, but Eppinger said her approach to the competition will be no different than any other meet.

“It’s a big stage, but I don’t feel any pressure,” Eppinger said. “I just handle business and represent my school. I’ll do the same thing that got me there — nothing more, nothing less.”

As a heptathlon contester, Eppinger will be competing in seven different events, whereas her teammates will compete in just one.

“It takes a lot of training and a lot of preparation, but I’ve been doing it all my life,” Eppinger said. “It’s a blessing that I’m able to compete in so many events.”

Like all of her teammates, Eppinger said she is just ready to compete.

“A quick prayer first and foremost,” she said, describing what goes through her mind at the starting line. “Then I’m in my zone — in my lane and my lane only — looking to the finish line.”

The NCAA Championships will open this afternoon with men’s discus scheduled for 2:30 p.m., CDT. With the women’s pole vault and the men’s long jump in the list of events scheduled for today, Paine and Fuller will be the first to compete for the Tide.

On Thursday, the Tide will continue action with Tyler Campbell in the men’s high jump and Kaylon Eppinger in the first four events of the heptathlon. The Tide will conclude competition on Friday with Krystle Schade in the women’s high jump and Eppinger in the final three events of the heptathlon.

ESPN3 will provide live coverage of the finals beginning tomorrow, 5:15 p.m., CDT and Friday, 6:30 p.m., CDT. ESPN3 and ESPNU will provide live coverage of the remaining final rounds Saturday at 11 a.m. CDT.

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Tide sends five to Des Moines