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Meet the six Rice athletes vying for NCAA Track medals

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Six Rice athletes qualified to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships Wednesday through Saturday in Eugene, Ore.

Five of the six will be making their first appearances at the championships. Claire Uke is back for the second time in the shot put. She took 18th a year ago as a sophomore. Now she is one of the favorites.

Rice has sent at least one athlete to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for six straight seasons. Last year, four made it. Of this year’s six athletes, none are seniors.

Here’s a breakdown of each athlete, their season to date, time competing, NCAA seed and the men and women to beat in each event.

Chris Pillow

Event: Pole Vault

Year: Junior

Hometown: Mechanicsville, Va.

Honors: Conference USA Indoor and Outdoor Pole Vault champion

C-USA finish: 1st (5.28 meters)

NCAA West Prelims finish: 9th (5.26 meters)

Pillow is batting leadoff since the pole vault competition starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Pillow set a career-best vault this season, clearing 5.5 meters on March 27 at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays. That was the second best vault in school history. He also won the event at UTEP. Pillow is the No. 21 seed, though essentially tied with Michael Mahnke of Houston, who also had a 5.26-meter vault. Reese Watson of Texas is the top seed. He cleared 5.36 meters.

Cali Roper

Event: 10,000 meters

Year: Freshman

Hometown: Conroe, Texas

Honors: Freshman of the Meet at C-USA Cross Country Championships

C-USA finish: 1st (35:47.32)

NCAA West Prelims finish: 12th (34:33.16)

Roper will complete a fantastic freshman campaign at 7:15 p.m. Thursday. Her best time in the 10,000 meters came at the Mt. SAC Relays (34:18.42). She qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championship by taking the final spot with a 12th place showing at Prelims. That puts her as the No. 24 seed. No. 14 seed Olivia Mickle of Texas is the only other Lone Star State runner in the field. Erin Finn of Michigan is the top seed.

McKenzie Johnson

Event: Pole Vault

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: San Diego

Honors: 2013 C-USA Indoor Pole Vault champion

C-USA finish: 2nd (4.08 meters)

NCAA West Prelims finish: 12th (4.04 meters)

Johnson will compete at 3:15 p.m. Friday. She has won five events this year, to give her nine career victories. She placed second in both the indoor and outdoor Conference USA meets. Her best vault, 4.21 meters, came at home in the J. Fred Duckett Twilight. She is the No. 23 seed for the event. Nine different athletes cleared 4.20 meters at prelims, including a pair of Indiana Hoosiers, Sydney Clute and Kelsie Ahbe.

Evan Karakolis

Event: Javelin

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: Scarborough, Ontario

Record: School record in Javelin of 70.8 meters

C-USA finish: 1st (69.06 meters)

NCAA West Prelims finish: 3rd (69.28 meters)

Karakolis will compete at 12:35 p.m. Saturday. After breaking the school record in his first collegiate meet as a freshman, Karakolis broke it again this season at the Virginia Challenge. He has finished in the top three six times, including winning the Conference USA title. He went from 37th in the NCAA Regional in 2013 to 3rd this season. Karakolis is the No. 9 seed, the highest seed of a Texas athlete. Chris Carper of Robert Morris is the top seed, followed by Raymond Dykstra of Kentucky.

Belle MacFarlane

Event: High Jump

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: Dallas

C-USA outdoor finish: 8th (1.71 meters)

NCAA West Prelims finish: 5th (1.77 meters)

The high jump competition starts at 12:45 p.m. Saturday. MacFarlane won both the J. Fred Duckett Twilight and the Victor Lopez Classic. She saved her best jump for last though. The 1.77 meters at NCAA Prelims was a personal record. She was seeded tied for 41st in the nation entering Prelims, but finished 5th. She is one of 15 jumpers to clear 1.77 meters. A group of seven athletes cleared 1.81 meters, including two from Georgia and two from Maryland.

Claire Uke

Event: Shot Put

Year: Junior

Hometown: Cedar Hill, Texas

Honors: Indoor All-American

C-USA finish: 1st (17.18 meters)

NCAA West Prelims finish: 2nd (17.16 meters)

Uke has a long wait until 1 p.m. Saturday. The women’s shot put is the last field event. Uke won five shot put events in a row, before taking second place at NCAA Prelims. She won the Conference USA Outdoor crown and finished 8th in the NCAA Indoor Championship. As a sophomore, Uke was the first Rice athlete to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships shot put since Wendi Miller in 1989. She took 18th place with a throw of 15.64. She is the No. 4 seed this year behind Dani Bunch of Purdue, Christina Hillman of Iowa State and Cassie Wertman of Tennessee.

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