Ball State track and field travels to Akron, Ohio, to take on participants from 16 schools in the 13th annual Akron Invitational Feb. 3-4.
Included in the mix are five Mid-American Conference opponents. The teams will meet again in three weeks at the conference championship meet.
For Cardinals head coach Brian Etelman, this weekend’s invitational will be an opportunity to go up against what he considers to currently be the MAC’s two best teams: Akron and Eastern Michigan.
“If we have an opportunity to go head-to-head against somebody that we know is ranked in the top 8-to-10 in the conference, unless we’re severely outmatched, which is very rare, everyone on the team knows their job is to beat those folks,” Etelman said.
The Cardinals and Zips met once before this season. The two squads participated in the Kentucky Invitational Jan. 13-14 when Ball State sophomore Regan Lewis won the high jump over conference leader Nikki Manson, a senior for Akron.
Lewis’ match-up with Manson, along with Akron sophomore Daijia Mills, is one to watch over the weekend, as all three participants are ranked in the MAC’s top four for the season’s highest jump, with Manson’s 1.84m jump at the Penn State National on Jan. 23 taking the top honors. The high jump event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Feb. 4.
“I expect to see [Manson and Mills] come out as hard as they can, but I’m going to do the same,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, I’m able to top them again.”
Lewis has set or tied a personal record in three of the four meets this season, and has improved on her highest jump by eight centimeters. Her highest jump was recorded at 1.80m during the qualifying round in last weekend’s Gladstein Invitational at Indiana University. She would win the event by posting a 1.76m in the final round, which is currently good enough to be the 35th highest jump in the country.
Etelman attributes the success to Lewis' experience, and the spark she created during the MAC outdoor championship meet last spring.
“A year makes a huge difference," Etelman said. "[Lewis] was pretty good in high school, a little up and down. ... She had a very up-and-down indoor season, but at the conference meet outdoors, she just showed up on a day where a lot of people didn’t."
Feb. 3's portion of the meet starts at 4 p.m. at Akron’s Stile Field House, with the Cardinals only taking part in one event on the day, the 5000m run. Feb. 4's events begin with the 3000m and mile run.