Kent State track and field gears up for NCAA meet


Madison Dunlap (2) and Nichole Flemming (6) run the mile during the Kent State Tune Up on Feb. 17, 2018 at the Kent State Field House. Dunlap won the race with a time of 5:01:73. [FILE]

Laurene Darby

Three Kent State track and field stars are set to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend, which will be held at the Gilliam Indoor Stadium in College Station, Texas.

TJ Lawson will compete in the heptathlon, and Craig Stevens Jr. will compete in the triple jump to represent the men’s team. Gabrielle Figueroa is in place to represent the women’s team in the weight throw.

Figueroa is ranked No. 15 in the NCAA and earned her spot in the tournament at the MAC championships, where she placed first in the women’s weight throw with a distance of 21.31 meters. Figueroa said getting to where she is was not very easy.

“I’ve struggled this season to hit my national mark,” Figueroa said. “I just wasn’t able to translate practice throws into competition. I’m very excited to be competing, but there was always some doubt. You just have to keep trying.”

Overseeing past doubts, Figueroa’s secret to success and “biggest advocate” is her mother.

“Whenever I struggle, she always encourages me and helps me to find my worth and purpose in my faith rather than athletics,” Figueroa said. “I feel very prepared for this meet. I want to try to break my personal record. No matter the outcome, I’ll be happy to have qualified.”

All three athletes are in great positions to place high in the competition, said Nathan Fanger, Kent State’s assistant head coach of throws.

“TJ Lawson looks like he has a good shot to win,” Fanger said. “It’s all about competing on the day.”

Lawson made second team all-Mid-American Conference for the indoor season. “Excited and confident,” Lawson will be competing in the heptathlon events on Friday and Saturday.

“This is my first trip to the NCAA indoor championships,” Lawson said. “I feel that my training has prepared me well for the weekend. I am going to go out there and compete to the best of my ability.”

For Stevens Jr., this will be his second year competing at nationals and feels more relaxed and confident than his first time around.

“Outdoor nationals last year was my first national meet ever,” Stevens Jr. said. “Last year, I was more focused on gaining experience and enjoying my time there. This time around, I know what to expect and how to compete on the big stage.”

Fanger didn’t want to undersell the difficulty of competing under the bright lights of the NCAA competition, but still expressed confidence in his athletes.

“It’s not easy being here,” Fanger said. “We hope to get to the finals or be the top eight.”

Laurene Darby is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].