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BACK AT NATIONALS: Eastern Oregon fifth-year senior Jill Heinz (left) and junior Danielle Spiekermeier will run in the 4x800-meter relay this week at the NAIA national meet in Abbotsford, British Columbia. (Observer file photo/PAT PERKINS).
BACK AT NATIONALS: Eastern Oregon fifth-year senior Jill Heinz (left) and junior Danielle Spiekermeier will run in the 4x800-meter relay this week at the NAIA national meet in Abbotsford, British Columbia. (Observer file photo/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

The addition of a pair of relay teams makes this weeks NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships a more special event for the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers.

For one thing, thats eight more athletes who qualified for the national meet, which is being held in Abbotsford, British Columbia, for the second-straight year.

It also gives fifth-year senior Jill Heinz a chance to return to the national meet without having to race alone.

Heinz competed at the indoor national meet in early March in Tennessee in the 800, and she also raced at nationals as a freshman on the 4x800-meter relay team.

This time, Heinz returns as part of another 4x800 team, and coach John Spatz said shes ready to go.

Shes a lot more relaxed than Ive ever seen her, Spatz said. Its not just up to her to run an individual race, and it actually will allow her to run a better race than shes ever run.

Heinz has left her mark on the Mountaineers. Last year she ran the fifth-fastest womens 800 ever at the school, and shes the third-fastest 800 runner in school history. As a freshman, she became the third-fastest 400 runner in school history.

The relay team will need a fast performance from Heinz to get past Thursdays trials. The team of Heinz, junior Danielle Spiekermeier and sophomores Carri Jones and Kelsey Jones is seeded 20th; the top eight advance to Friday evenings final.

The mens 4x800 relay team also qualified and is ranked 12th going into the prelims. That team is made up of freshmen Ian Schroeder and Pat Egelus, sophomore Dave Terry and junior Ben Terry.

Watching them do workouts on the track the last couple of days, theyre both chomping on the bit, Spatz said of his relay teams.

What makes this weeks meet even more special is that it is the last for April Haney. The senior thrower is the most-decorated Eastern athlete in school history. Only one person has come close to her 12 All-American performances in indoor and outdoor competition, and thats junior Leah Merrell, who competes exclusively in the hammer throw during the outdoor season.

Haney will compete in three events this week. The hammer is up first for her and Merrell, at 10 a.m. Thursday morning. Merrell is ranked first and Haney third.

Haney will throw the shot Thursday afternoon; shes ranked third in that, too. On Friday she throws the discus, where shes ranked 13th.

Leahs pretty much at the top of her game right now, Spatz said. And Aprils always been a big meet performer for us, no matter what.

Theyre veterans, theyre going to go in and compete. Even for them to be mediocre is not too bad.

This week will see a couple more national meet performances from junior Ben Gall, who will run the 10,000 Thursday then turn around and run the 5,000 Friday with teammate Tim Riley.

Spiekermeier will also add the 1,500 to her relay duties.

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