Wichita State’s Gavyn Yetter read the Steve Prefontaine books and watched the movies. She explored the Prefontaine running trail near the team hotel and visited the memorial rock at the site of his death on a road in Eugene, Ore.
On Friday, she competes in the heptathlon in Hayward Field, the stadium Prefontaine and other great track and field athletes made famous as a shrine to the sport.
“It’s like you’re walking on holy land,” she said. “Track doesn’t get a lot of hype. When you’re there, you feel the hype. Like you’re meant to be there and you’re going to do something you’ve never done before.”
It is already an unprecedented week for Wichita State’s track team at the NCAA outdoor championships. Yetter is one of four Shockers competing in the multi-events. Nikki Larch-Miller and Breanne Borman join her in the heptathlon and decathlete Hunter Veith finished Thursday. It is the largest representation in the event for the Shockers.
“This is a major highlight of my coaching career,” WSU coach Steve Rainbolt said.
Yetter, a senior from Topeka, debuts at an NCAA meet. Larch-Miller finished eighth in the 2015 heptathlon and 11th in the 2017 indoor pentathlon. Borman finished 12th in the 2016 pentathlon and 16th in 2017.
While her teammates wrapped up the indoor season in a successful way in March, Yetter struggled with a bone chip in her right ankle. She had to switch to pushing off her left foot to high jump and needed a cortisone shot to get through the Missouri Valley Conference indoor meet.
“Usually I jump off a really good indoor season and have a really good spring,” she said. “That didn’t work out the way I wanted to. So this is better than I ever could have expected.”
Yetter qualified in the MVC outdoor meet last month and needed a personal-best time in the 800 meters, the final event of the heptathlon, to score enough points to move into the top 24 nationally. She ran a time of 2:14.77, bettering her previous mark by two seconds.
“I like to think it was all the hard work in the fall,” she said. “It just played out in the spring.”
Prefontaine, an Olympic distance runner and NCAA champion who died in 1975, is revered by many athletes for his competitive spirit. Yetter will think about his legacy when she competes.
“He’s the definition of pushing his limits,” she said. “I wish I could run like he does.”
Larch-Miller, a senior from San Diego, will wrap up one of WSU’s most decorated careers this week. She holds school records in the 100 meters (11.38 seconds), the 200 (23.23) and the 100-meter hurdles (13.08). Her score of 5,812 is second in the heptathlon.
Five years as a multi-athlete took a toll on her legs. She is bothered by a shooting pain in her right ankle when she jumps and she hyper-extended her left knee earlier this spring.
“It set me back from where I hoped I’d be,” she said. “I really haven’t had any personal records this outdoor season. To be dealing with all of that, but still have qualified for nationals really makes feel good about everything.”
Rainbolt expects Larch-Miller to go out with a strong performance. The top eight scores earn first-team All-American honors.
“She’s determined to be up in the top eight (finishers),” he said. “It would really, really great to get her back to that level.”
Borman, a senior from DeSoto, Mo., also qualified in the MVC meet. She enters the national meet ranked No. 15 with 5,640 points, the highest of the three Shockers.
“It hit me that it could have been my last meet as a Shocker,” she said. “I was hoping to go out with the best I’ve ever done. I got another chance to go and compete again in the national meet.”
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
Video: All events on ESPN3.com. Selected times on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.