OU track athletes gain a lot from national meet experience

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

Three Ottawa University track and field athletes will compete in the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships starting Wednesday in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Jaylan Washington (100-meters), Andrew Sprague (discus) and Laurel Barber (javelin) each hit the required marks over the course of the season to earn the right to compete.

Ottawa coach Jim Whittaker said it's great for the program to have athletes competing in the national championships, but more importantly, it's a big moment for the athletes.

"With recruits, they want to see how many All-Americans you're getting and how many national qualifiers and all of that stuff," Whittaker said. "I think the more meaningful part is the added experience that the kids get to have. To say that you were at a national meet or to say that you were an All-American – and then to go to those host sites and to be a part of the show that goes on, it's just a super cool experience for the kids.”

The coach added the experience is more than just track

“A lot of these kids have never been able to do anything like that,” he said. “We're going to be on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the kids who get to experience that have never seen anything like that. To me, that's the more meaningful part."

Washington punched his ticket to the Gulf Shores on April 24 at the Tabor Invitational. He finished with a 10.56 time, beating the 10.58 required for an NAIA A placing. This will be Washington's first outdoor national championship. He has competed twice in the NAIA Indoor National Championships.

"He's already been an All-American twice," Whittaker said. "His freshman year was shortened because of COVID, so we didn't have an outdoor season. But he was an All-American in indoor his freshman year in the 60. He was an All-American his sophomore year, indoor, in the 60. Now this is his first chance to compete in the outdoor national championship and see what he can do there. We're hoping he can write his name in the record books as one of the top OU athletes of all-time."

Sprague nailed his mark in the Discus at the Emporia State Spring Invite on March 19. His throw of 49.44m bested the required 49.20m for NAIA A ranking. The junior is making his first appearance at an NAIA National Championship.

"He's such a good-hearted, smart, intelligent person," Whittaker said. "He's come through a lot in life. But through it all he's always risen to the challenge. He rises to the occasion and ends up being really successful at all these things he does. We would love to see him go out his senior year as an All-American."

Barber joined Washington in also qualifying via the Tabor Invitational in late April. The freshman hit the needed 39.00m mark with a toss of 39.09, putting her in the NAIA B placing. A two-sport athlete at Ottawa, Barber is one of only 20 athletes who made the required distance this season.

She also comes in as the KCAC champion in javelin with a 35.78m throw.

"She's fun because she's a volleyball player who came out for track, and we weren't entirely sure what we were going to get," Whittaker said. "And then she ends up being an absolute stud in the javelin. So we're just excited to see what she can do at her first National Meet and see what she can do over her next three years. She's a fun kid to be around."