Redshirt senior Aliyah Gustafson used every opportunity she had Saturday to make a return trip to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field National Championships, throwing the shot put 55-feet-3.5 (16.85m) on her third and final attempt at the NCAA East Region preliminary round at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida.
Gustafson, who has made two previous trips to the outdoor national championships and two more to the indoor national championships, fouled on her first throw and recorded a mark of just 51-7 (15.72m) on her second attempt. That distance was not nearly enough to position her for a fifth trip to a national championship. But she calmly stepped up and rocketed her third attempt to climb all the way to fourth place, easily inside the top 12 needed to advance to nationals.
"The composure was exactly what you would expect a sixth-year senior to have," BGSU Head Coach Lou Snelling said. "Even though she hadn't been in that specific situation before, she wasn't going to be any more experienced than she was at that moment."
Redshirt freshman Zaresha Neal also competed in the shot put at the NCAA regional meet. Making her first regional appearance, she placed 38th with a distance of 49-0.75 (14.95m). She was one of the most consistent performers in the meet as she was one of only 13 throwers to record a distance of at least 14.80m on all three attempts.
Gustafson finished behind only the Alabama duo of Portious Warren and Haley Teel, as well as Ohio State's Sade Olatoye. She led a trio of Mid-American Conference throwers who placed in the top 12, just ahead of Kent State's Gabrielle Bailey in sixth and Central Michigan's Erin Howard in 11th.
Gustafson will join teammate Kaila Butler, a redshirt sophomore, at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in Austin, Texas. Butler took the 12th and final spot in the hammer throw Thursday in her first regional appearance. Bowling Green is the only MAC school to qualify a pair of throwers to nationals.
"We're sending two kids to nationals again; we did that last year as well," Snelling said. "I love the consistency of that. This is Aliyah's swan song and her last meet as a Falcon. That will be a little bittersweet. And then you juxtapose that with Kaila Butler – a redshirt sophomore making her first nationals experience. That's a cool situation."
BGSU's throwers will compete at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field National Championships on Thursday, June 6. The hammer throw is scheduled to begin at 5:30 pm ET and the shot put will take place at 10:10 pm ET.