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Courtesy of Columbia Athletics / Ben Ennis

Junior Natalie Tanner qualified for the NCAA Finals in Eugene, Oregon this past weekend in the 5-kilometer.

Junior Natalie Tanner advanced to the NCAA Track and Field Finals after a career-best run in the 5-kilometer race at the NCAA East Preliminary Round over the weekend.

At the Preliminary Round held in Jacksonville, Florida, the junior clocked a 16:12.04—the third best Light Blue time in history—to earn ninth place and one of 12 qualifying spots from the eastern half of the country for the National Championship. Tanner's time was nearly 12 seconds better than her previous personal best of 16:23.91.

Columbia sent 14 athletes to compete at the East Prelims, but Tanner is the only Light Blue athlete heading to the NCAA Finals, which will take place in Eugene, Oregon from June 8-11.

Aside from Tanner, five other Light Blue runners finished in the top-20 in their respective events, and several posted career-best times.

Sophomore Sarah Hardie notched a personal-best 2:07.28 in the first round of the 800-meter race to earn a spot in the quarterfinals of the two-lap event. She then posted a 2:07.45, missing the top-12 by over three seconds to finish 19th. Senior Brittney Wade also competed in the preliminaries of the 800-meters, clocking a 2:07.71—over a second slower than her school record in the event—for 32nd place.

In the same race on the men's side, first-year Alek Sauer ran the fastest race of his early career, posting a 1:48.82 and the 11th-best time in the first round. But in the quarterfinals, the first-year crossed the line in just 1:51.02 for 21st place—about four seconds slower than the 12th-place qualifier.

After competing in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships earlier in the year, junior Rob Napolitano narrowly missed a shot at returning to the national stage. Napolitano placed 15th in both the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds of the 1500-meters, finishing the first round in 3:46.97. His personal best of 3:44.33 from earlier in the season would have placed him snugly in the top-12.

Senior Olivia Sadler posted an identical result to Napolitano, taking 15th in the women's 1500-meter race after running a 4:23.09 in the quarterfinals. And like Napolitano, the senior's career best 4:18.36 from last season could have punched her ticket to Eugene. First-year Libby Kokes also took part in the four-lap race, but was unable to make it out of the first round, taking 30th in 4:26.41

Senior Tait Rutherford ran a 30:24.34 in the 10-kilometer race to take 20th—about 20 seconds behind the 12th-place finisher.

The team's only competitor in the sprinting events, sophomore Akua Obeng-Akrofi, clocked a career best 53.14 in the 400-meter preliminary round, earning the 24th qualifying spot for the quarterfinals. The sophomore then ran a 53.65 for 21st place.

The Light Blue saw a pair of 25th-place finishes from juniors Anna Williams and Henna Rustami. Williams earned her spot in the triple jump with a leap of 12.73 meters, while Rustami clocked a 16:51.70 in the 5-kilometer.

Aside from Tanner, the rest of the track and field team will return to action next season. The NCAA Track and Field Finals will take place June 8-11 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Tanner is slated to compete in the 5-kilometer final on June 11 at 5:25 p.m. The race, along with the rest of the competition, will be broadcasted on ESPN.

ellorine.carle@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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