NSU Sprinter Justin Walker Advances to 100m Finals
EUGENE, Ore. – Northwestern State senior sprinter Justin Walker won his national semifinal-round heat Wednesday evening in the 100 meter dash at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, advancing to Friday evening’s eight-man final.
Running in the inside lane in the second of three heats, Walker posted a wind-aided 10.113 time, tied for third fastest among the 24 national semifinalists. He clinched first-team All-America honors, the 71st All-America recognition for NSU competitors at the NCAA Division I championships since 1980.
Walker won despite a stumble early in the race. Rallying in the final 50 meters, he nipped Clayton Vaughn of Texas-Arlington (10.114) and Florida’s Antwan Wright (10.123), who also both advanced to Friday’s final.
“I didn’t have the start I wanted, but fortunately I was able to recover and close the gap, and finish strong. Just before the finish I knew I was in front and I felt good about going to the finals. When I crossed the line, I was confident I was in,” said Walker.
Demons’ first-year head coach Mike Heimerman said sprints coach Chad Leath worked with Walker on getting out of the blocks well in a morning training session, and was pleased with the results. In warmups before the heat, Walker’s starts were some of his best in the past month, said Heimerman.
“But in the race, he had a dip, and what we call a dip is when he comes out of drive phase in the block and makes the transition to his top end speed. He had a foot misplacement that caused his hips to sink and to lose his momentum slightly. So he did not have the best 3-4 strides and that affected the next 10 meters. In a race like that, you can be sunk with that kind of misstep,” said Heimerman. “He needed about 10 meters to get back on track. He had to play catchup and could because he has that top gear, enough turnover with his arms, that only a handful of guys have. Without the dip, he could have been under 10 (seconds) easy.”
The competition was extremely close, except for the fastest qualifier, the sensational Baylor freshman, Trayvon Bromell, who posted a wind-aided 9.92 to run away with the first heat. USC’s Aaron Brown was second in that heat at 10.10, followed by Walker’s winning heat two performance and the third-place finisher in heat one, Desmond Lawrence of North Carolina A&T, matching Walker in 10.113.
Vaughn of UTA (10.114) and Florida’s Wright (10.123) were next among the eight finalists. The seventh qualifier was heat three winner Dentarius Locke of Florida State in 10.128. The last qualifier, Texas A&M’s Shavez Hart, automatically advanced with a second-place finish in the third heat in 10.18. Only Locke’s time among the top nine was wind-legal with a reading under 2.0 mph, with Walker’s clocking coming with a 2.3 mph tailwind, denying a school record performance.
LSU’s Aaron Ernest (10.129) and Senoj-Jay Givens of Texas (10.15) ran faster times than Hart, racing in the first two heats, but did not advance. Qualifying rules sent the top two finishers in each of the three heats, along with the next two fastest times, to Friday’s 7 p.m. CST final at Hayward Field.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking. If you can’t finish in the top two, you have to hope your time is good enough and at a race at this level, the slightest margin can make all the difference,” said Walker. “I’m very happy and relieved, and excited about what’s ahead over the next two days, at least.”
The Slidell-Northshore product becomes Northwestern’s fourth 100 meter dash finalist, joining Ronnie Powell and Mark Duper, who was fourth in the 1982 century finals a year after he joined Joe Delaney, Mario Johnson and Victor Oatis to win the 1981 NCAA 4x100 meter relay championship. Powell was seventh in the 100 at the 1997 and 1998 NCAA Outdoors. NSU’s other 100 meter dash All-America award came by Rayvn Hayward in 2006 with a 10th place finish.
“All the glory goes to God. It’s a blessing to hear that and to be mentioned in that company. I’m just proud to represent Northwestern State, my coaches and my teammates,” said Walker.
His All-America honor, to be officially announced next week by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Assoiciation, will be the 20th claimed by a Demon sprinter, most coming on relays.
Walker runs again Thursday evening at 6 CST in the 200 meter semifinal round, with that final on Saturday afternoon on the University of Oregon campus.
“He has gotten the monkey off his back by getting to the finals in the 100 with less than a perfect race,” said Heimerman. “He didn’t run well in the 100 at regionals and he ran pretty well today, so now we’re excited about the 200 Thursday night and obviously the 100 final.
Walker rebounded from a subpar showing in the 100 at the regional championships, when a sore Achilles heel contributed to a 10.31 clocking that was 22nd among the 24 national qualifiers.
His regional 200 mark of 20.58 a day later was eight-best and got him a lane five assignment in heat two Thursday night, next to Dedrick Dukes of Florida, whose 20.23 won the East meet and was bettered only by the West winner, a 20.16 from USC’s Brown.
Walker won All-America honors in the 4x100 relay last year as he led the Demons to an 11th place finish. He also ran in the 100 semifinals, but a 10.28 last year was good enough only for 18th, two spots shy of All-America accolades.
Walker shares the Demons’ 100 dash mark (10.13) with Powell, who set it in 1998. He has sole possession of the 200 mark with his 20.47 claiming the Southland crown last month, trimming 0.02 off a time he ran two years ago.