(Editor’s note: Montana State University press release)
BOZEMAN – Montana State’s Diego Leon is set to participate in the 2018 NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships on Friday, March 9. Leon will compete in the men’s mile which is scheduled to begin at 4:35 p.m. MDT in Texas A&M’s Rhonda and Frosty Gilliam Jr. Indoor Track Stadium in College Station.
Leon enters the preliminary race as the 11th seed out of 16 competitors and will race in the first of two heats. If Leon places in the top four of his heat, or with one of the two fastest times outside of a top-four heat finish, he will advance to Saturday’s finals race and have an opportunity to race for a national championship.
“It’s going to be a challenge for him to move on from the prelims to the finals,” Montana State assistance coach Lyle Weesesaid. “A lot of it is being super aware of his position and moving when he needs to. There’s always a little bit of luck that’s involved with it as well.
“A lot of times the most nerve-wracking experience is getting from the prelims to the finals. Once, you’re in the finals, the nerves aren’t as bad and you can run your race.”
Leon became the seventh men’s runner, and fourth Bobcat in the mile, to advance to the indoor NCAA meet. He qualified behind his converted time of 3:57.37 which he set at the MSU-hosted dual meet on Feb. 4 inside of Worthington Arena.
A total of eight individuals on the MSU men’s team have qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Cristian Soratos was the last Bobcat to do so when he traveled to Fayetteville, Ark in 2015. Soratos finished a program-best runner-up in the mile at the championships after entering with the top mark in the nation at the time. Leon’s 13th best mark among all NCAA milers this season advanced to Friday’s race, but he’ll need to advance to Saturday’s finals to have an opportunity to earn First Team All-America honors.
“I think the key is going to be to not get caught up in other people’s races and run my own race,” Leon said. “Part of that, is not getting stuck on the inside. I don’t want to get overwhelmed by the huge crowd in the race, I just want to stay on the outside and be able to move up when I want.
“Even if I lead the race for a bit, I want it to be fast. I want it to be sub-four so I can get an outright sub-four mile because I haven’t done that yet. It’ll be nice to just finish strong and if I go sub-four, I think I can be a (First Team) All-American.”
The men’s mile features 10 runners from Power Five conferences. Southern Utah’s Kasey Knevelbaard is also in the field with Leon.
“For one, you have to stay in contact with the leaders that’s for sure, if you think you want to get out of the preliminary round into the final,” MSU head coach Dale Kennedy said. “It will take a similar time of 3:57 for him to get into the top eight to be a First Team All-American.
“He’s proven he’s capable of that. He has the fitness level and talent to do it. It’s just a matter of being ready both mentally and emotionally because it goes back-to-back days. I think he has a great opportunity in front of him.”
Leon is guaranteed Second Team All-America accolades by competing in the meet on Friday. If he advances to Saturday’s finals race, Leon would compete on the track at approximately 3:10 p.m. All track events at the NCAA Championships will be available on WatchESPN.