Despite posting the fastest time in the nation in the 100 meters earlier this month, Northwestern State sprinter Justin Walker isn’t taking anything for granted going into the NCAA East preliminary rounds this weekend.
Walker’s slightly wind-aided time of 9.95 seconds at the Southland Conference championships on May 11 was the fastest posted in the world to that point and remains the fastest in the NCAA this spring under any conditions.
But Walker, a Slidell native and Northshore High School grad, knows that mark doesn’t guarantee him anything for the first two rounds of the NCAA championships that begin Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I know the competition just gets harder from here on out,” said Walker, who leads a contingent of athletes from state schools into the three-day competition. “I’m more confident in my own ability, but at the same time I can’t get complacent with anything. I just have to keep progressing.”
That means it’ll be business as usual for Walker, who helped Northwestern State’s 4x100-meter relay team earn All-America honors with an 11th-place finish at the NCAA championships last June.
“For me, that time doesn’t really change anything,” said Walker, who was named the national male track and field athlete of the week by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association after running the 9.95. “I still have to go out and compete, and I just have to execute.”
The goal this week is to finish in the top 12 in the 100 meters as well as the 200, where he’s ranked sixth in the East region with a time of 20.47 seconds. The top 12 finishers in each individual event earn spots in the national semifinals to be held June 11-14 in Eugene, Oregon.
Walker is also part of the Demons’ 4x100-meter relay team that ranks 13th going into the meet after winning the SLC title with a time of 39.89 seconds.
The top 12 teams in the relays also qualify for the national semifinals.
While earning his first All-America honor in an individual event is one goal, Walker, the only athlete to return from last year’s 11th-place 4x100 relay team, is intent on making sure the Demons earn a spot in the semis as well.
“We can definitely improve on what we did last year,” he said. “We can’t settle for what we did a year ago. We haven’t had the perfect race yet.”
Walker leads a group of four state men who are ranked in the top 10 in the East.
Louisiana Tech’s Jarvis Gotch is tied for first in the East region with a season’s-best of 26 feet, ¼ inch in the long jump, UL-Monroe’s Corey Wesley is fourth in the long jump (25-10¼), UL-Lafayette’s Albert Fournette is fourth in the shot put (65-11) and Tech’s Trey Hadnot is fifth in the 200 (20.43).
Tech’s 4x100 relay team also is sixth with a best this season of 39.53 seconds.
Only two state women are ranked in the top 10 going into the meet.
Louisiana Tech’s Kim Francis is tied for seventh in the 100-meter hurdles (13.02) and teammate Charla Craddock is seventh in the long jump (20-10¾).
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.