For graduate-junior Blanca Fernandez, it was all a waiting game.
After leading the conference in both the mile and 3,000-meter runs at this past weekend’s American Athletic Conference Championships, there was nothing left Fernandez could do. Whether or not she would qualify for the 2015 NCAA Indoor National Championships was out of her hands entirely.
“It’s always a waiting game,” cross country coach James Snyder said of the national meet. “The NCAA indoor [championship] is not as black and white as the outdoor meet, where you know on the day who qualifies. Basically, you have up until the last competition weekend of the season to hit a qualifying mark, but only the Top 16 qualify.”
After weeks of anticipation, Fernandez’s name was included in the field of 16 runners who will compete for a national indoor title in the mile. The qualifiers were officially announced late last Tuesday night.
Fernandez, who began running for Temple earlier this semester, earned the 15th spot in the mile, and will be seeded at her career-best mark of 4 minutes, 40.60 seconds, her winning time at the Alex Wilson Invite at Notre Dame on Feb. 21.
“She was in a situation where she actually was not in the Top 16 initially,” Snyder said. “But then, after declaration, some girls decided to run other events or there might have been an injury or two, and she was able to put herself in a spot where she ended up qualifying.”
Fernandez’s seeded time is only .09 seconds faster than that of Jenny Celis of Oklahoma State, the last qualifier for the mile.
“I’ve been preparing, but we will see if it was enough or not,” Fernandez said. “In Spain, I always ran the 1,500-meter run and it looks similar [to the mile], but when you [tire out], it’s at the 1,500 [mark] and you have to run 100 meters longer.”
Women’s track & field coach Elvis Forde said that by qualifying for the nationals, Fernandez has established herself as a member of an elite group of the sport.
“In regards to making that qualifying mark, I call it an elite group that makes it that far when it comes to the national championship,” Forde said. “If you look at the number of entries per event, there are probably over 1,000 athletes that run the mile, and you’re down to the final 16. We are very excited about moving forward, getting her there and seeing how she does.”
Fernandez will be the first athlete to represent Temple at the national meet since Felicia Hodges qualified in the high jump in 1987.
“It’s a big responsibility because it was a long time ago [that] a Temple athlete was there,” Fernandez said. “I’m very happy [and] I’m afraid at the same time, because I’ll be there with the best athletes in the country.”
While Fernandez joined the team just this past December, Forde said her past experiences in top-class competition, which include a U-23 Spanish national title in the 1,500-meter run and experience with the U-23 Spanish national team, could help Fernandez in the two-day meet, which will take place Friday and Saturday at the University of Arkansas.
The preliminary races will take place on Friday with two heats of eight runners each, followed by the finals on Saturday, which will consist of the four fastest runners from each heat along with the next two fastest times.
Although she is seeded second-last in the event, Snyder said seeding can mean little in such an elite race.
“Any time you go to a national championship meet, it’s all about having a spot on the [starting] line,” Snyder said. “Now that she has that, everybody starts with a clean slate and everybody has an equal shot. In my opinion, knowing Blanca and how she races tactically, she is going to put herself in a good position to hopefully make a little bit of noise.”
Tyler Device can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.