Texas track and field opens competition at NCAA Outdoor Championships

The defending national champion in the shot put, Tripp Piperi finished second in the event at the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a season-best throw of 20.71 meters; Texas is tied for fourth after Day 1 (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

EUGENE, Oregon — The Texas men's track and field team sits tied for fourth place after the first day of the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which began Wednesday at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field. The event marks the return of the sport's most prestigious collegiate event, which was cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

LSU, one of the favorites to win the men's national championship, is leading after the first day with 24 points. Mississippi State is second with 17 points, followed by Kansas with 13-1/2 and Texas and Kentucky, each of which scored 12 points.

UT's Tripp Piperi scored eight points for the Longhorns when he placed second overall in the shot put, with a season-best throw of 20.71 meters. The defending national champion, Piperi began his day with throws of 19.69 meters and 19.96 meters before eclipsing the 20-meter mark on his third throw. The mark that claimed second place came on his fifth attempt.

The Horns' other four points came from Steffin McCarter, who placed fifth place in the men's long jump with a leap of 7.84 meters. The senior, who was second at the West Regional in College Station, had eclipsed the eight-meter mark at both the Big 12 Championships and the West Regional, but was unable to reach that mark in the wet conditions in Eugene.

The decathlon will be split over two days, with five events Wednesday and five more Thursday. Big 12 champion Leo Neugebauer opened the meet by running a time of 11.12 seconds in the 100-meter dash, which was 15th in the event, but moved up on the points leaderboard with a mark of 7.14 meters in the long jump. The shot put was Neugebauer's best event of the day, as he recorded the No. 3 mark amongst all competitors with a throw of 15.15 meters. His high jump of 2.04 meters was fifth overall as he tallied 804 points, which brought his total to 3,316 points, on pace for a personal best.

But by the 400-meter dash, the fifth event of the day in the decathlon, Neugebauer was clearly fatigued. It showed on the final 40 meters of the race, as he dropped from third to fifth in the section three heat before losing his footing at the finish line and falling forward on the track. He crossed the line in 50.56 seconds, having earned 789 points to bring his score to 4,105 and rank fifth in the event standings, just 279 points behind Georgia's Karel Tilga, the leader.

The top Longhorn runner in the prelims was middle-distance star Yusuf Bizimana, who turned in the fastest time in the 800 meters, in 1:46.90. He completed the first 400 meters in just over 52 seconds and held the third position in the pack as the pace increased. The freshman made his move with just over 50 meters to go, after closing the gap between himself and Clemson's Kameron Jones, who led for the majority of the final lap. Texas had a second qualifer in Crayton Carrozza, who finished third in the same heat as Bizimana, and sixth overall, clocking a personal-best 1:47.46.

The men's 4-by-100 and 4-by-400 relay teams each took third in their respective heats, though only the 4-by-100 team claimed a spot in Friday's final.

The 4-by-100 quartet took third in the third heat and placed seventh overall in the semifinals, in 39.09 seconds. Heading into the final leg of the event, Micaiah Harris took the baton and pulled away from the rest of the field to help UT edge Texas Tech by five-hundredths of a seconds.

In the 4-by-400 relay, Texas also took third in its heat, finishing ninth overall with a time of 3:05.89. Despite solid legs from Jonathan Jones and Jon Maas to put Texas in the No. 2 position, the Horns lost their chance to win the heat on the final leg of the race, as Iowa overtook anchor Willington Wright on final straightaway to help the Hawkeyes finish second, well behind North Carolina A&T. That cost Texas an opportunity to race for a national title; the top two finishers in each heat automatically qualified and the next four fastest non-automatic qualifiers were selected to the final. Texas was fourth among the non-automatic qualifiers.

Harris turned in a solid individual performance of his own in the 200-meter sprint, placing fourth in the semifinals with a mark of 20.21 seconds. It was just over a tenth of a second off his personal best, and considering it was the prelims, Harris may have more in store for the final on Friday. The nine runners who qualified for Friday's final were separated by just 0.36 seconds in their respective preliminary heats.

Competition resumes Thursday with the women's events and the decathlon. The meet is being streamed live on the ESPN family of networks and WatchESPN.com.

Riley Zayas

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley

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