'Kick to the gut' ends UA track season, but Olympic hopes remain
Arizona track & field

'Kick to the gut' ends UA track season, but Olympic hopes remain

Arizona’s Carlos Villarreal, a Rio Rico native, was among the Wildcats athletes who were poised for a big weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships before they were scuttled.

The cancellation of March Madness and all NCAA spring sports brought to mind the words of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote in 1857:

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Those lines have been invoked for all types of situations, some involving life or death. In the wide world of sports, the phrase rarely refers to something quite as drastic — but the NCAA’s decision to cancel the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and all spring championships represents sudden death for the title dreams of a team or individual.

At 4:16 p.m. Thursday, when the NCAA announced its decision, three Arizona track athletes lost their bid to win or to excel at the NCAA indoor championship in Albuquerque. The meet was scheduled to start 24 hours later, ending Saturday.

The stunning announcement, which head coach Fred Harvey called a “kick to the gut,” left the athletes, coaches and fans wondering what might have been.

Might it have been the year that redshirt senior Carlos Villarreal won the indoor national championship in the mile?

Would senior Justice Summerset have captured the high jump national title?

In what place would junior transfer Israel Oloyede, ranked eighth nationally, have ended up?

This is not to say that the competition should have gone on. The coronavirus is risky business, and the NCAA made the right call. But we, as sports fans, like to indulge in what-might-have-been scenarios.

Villareal and Summerset were in top form, Harvey said, and easily could have emerged Saturday as NCAA champions. Instead, the coaches and athletes left Albuquerque on Friday in a chartered bus, commiserating and wondering what lay ahead.

Villarreal, a Rio Rico High School graduate, won the 1,500 meters last summer at the Pan American Games. He ranked sixth in the NCAA mile and 34th in the world in the 1,500 meters. In February, he gained international notice by finishing fifth in the mile in 3:56.77 at the prestigious Millrose Games in New York. His NCAA race plan was to stay with the race leaders until the final 200 yards and then explode to the finish line with his trademark “Carlos kick.”

Summerset, the former Mountain View High School track and football star, placed second in the recent Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship meet.

His best finish in the NCAA nationals was second at the 2017 outdoor meet, and his personal record is a leap of sideline7-4½.

Oloyede transferred from Paradise Valley Community College, where he was national JC champion in the weight throw.

On the UA women’s team, Alexa Porpaczy qualified for the NCAA indoor meet but an injury sidelined her.

Harvey had been excited about the spring outdoor season, which would have began next Saturday. “We would have been a far better team outdoors than indoors,” Harvey said, with the addition of a number of events not contested indoors, such as the discus, hammer throw, 400-meter hurdles and two relays,.

The outdoor season would have also brought junior Jordan Geist back into action. The All-American took a redshirt year during the indoor season after competing almost constantly during the last two years.

As the Wildcats rode back to Tucson on Friday, they wondered how the NCAA’s plan to give spring sports seniors another year of eligibility would play out. Summerset, for one, said he had been in touch with his family and would be willing, if given a chance, to return for another year.

A number of UA athletes are eligible to take part in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials this summer. They include Summerset and Geist, 400-meter hurdler James Smith, long jumper P.J. Austin and women’s 400-meter sprinter Waggoner.

Villarreal, who was born in Sonora, plans to compete for Mexico in the Olympic trials. He may be joined at the trials by high jumper Karla Teran, a native of Nogales, Sonora.

Porpaczy also is in line to compete for a slot on the Canadian Olympic team.

Also setting their eyes on the Olympics are two UA team graduates who train under Harvey and help the UA track athletes as volunteer assistant coaches. Georganne Moline is prepping for the U.S. Olympic Trials while Sage Watson will compete in the Canadian Olympic Trials.

The all will continue working out in hopes of competing in the 2020 Olympic in Tokyo.

They hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will not wipe the Olympics off the calendar.

They do not want to have to wonder again: What might have been.

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