TAMPA, Fla. – Sophomore Reagan Bustamante automatically qualified to the NCAA East Regional 800-meter quarterfinals with a third-place finish in her first-round preliminary on Thursday.
Bustamante, from Springfield, Va., ran the 800 in 2:06.67, her fastest time at the distance in more than a month, to secure one of 24 spots in the quarterfinals, which will be run Friday afternoon at the University of South Florida Track and Field Complex.
While Bustamante advanced, Commodore standouts Courtney Clayton and Jenn Edobi watched their outdoor campaign end Thursday. Clayton, one of the most decorated middle-distance runners in team history, missed joining the top 24 qualifiers with a 2:08.29 effort. Edobi, the second-fastest Commodore ever at 400 meters, ran a season-best 53.29 in her specialty to narrowly miss advancing to the quarterfinals.
On Friday, Commodore pole vaulters Kristen Denk, Caleigh Lofstead and Margaret Ollinger will join Bustamante in competition at the East Regionals. They will move on to the NCAA Championships in Oregon with a top-12 finish.
Bustamante, coming off the only disappointing race of the entire outdoor season in the SEC 1,500-meter final, ran a superb tactical 800 Friday. She was positioned fourth through the opening lap in 1:02.60, then edged past Zoe Matherne of Holy Cross in the closing 200 meters to earn the automatic qualifier.
She will return to the track Friday afternoon to run in the second of three quarterfinal heats. Bustamante will advance to Eugene if she finishes among the top three in her race, or has one of the three fastest times among the non-automatic qualifiers.
Vanderbilt head coach Steve Keith was proud of the way the three Commodores competed in the first round Thursday.
“Coming off the SECs, I was very proud of Ray (Bustamante). She ran a very smart, tactical race to advance,” Keith said, “and I can’t say enough positives about Jenn and Courtney. Jenn will come back better than ever next year, but we’re going to miss Courtney. She’s been a tremendous part of our team, someone we have built it around. She’s a special competitor and truly one of the best this program has produced.”
The stellar VU career of Courtney Clayton comes to a close.
All-American, multiple All-SEC and team 800-meter record holder misses quarterfinals with 2:08.29 effort.
We are so proud of you Courtney! pic.twitter.com/R37EIEHeza
— Vanderbilt XC/TF (@vandyxctrack) May 24, 2018
A 2017 All-American and multiple All-SEC recipient, Clayton has battled through injuries for most of the last four months to return to competition in April. Since returning to training, she has been one of the team’s top runners, including earning a fourth-place finish in the 800 at the recent SEC Championship.
On Thursday, Clayton was victimized by a slow, tactical prelim. Hoping to go through the first lap in 1:02, Clayton was forced to push the pace through 400 meters in 1:04.67, then could not hold off the field down the stretch to earn a sixth-place finish.
Edobi, who posted a collegiate personal record of 52.75 last year at the East Regionals, needed to run close to 53-flat on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. Instead, her 53.29 effort could manage only a sixth-place result.