HANOVER, N.H. - The 2012 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships are set to get underway Wednesday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines Iowa and run through Saturday afternoon.
Two members of the Dartmouth women's team will be on hand, attempting to win an individual national title in their respective events. Sophomore Abbey D'Agostino (Topsfield, Mass.) and senior Alexi Pappas (Alameda, Calif.) will compete in the 5,000 meters and the 3,000-meter steeplechase this week with the hopes of writing their names in the Big Green history books as Dartmouth has never had a female individual national champion.
D'Agostino sat down with DartmouthSports.com last week, but today's focus is on the elder of the two competitors at this year's nationals.
Pappas has proved to be one of the best performers in the steeplechase all season long, holding the top time in the country for a three-week stretch during the spring. She has broken her own school record in the event three times this year and is the only runner in program history to run a sub-10-minute race, doing so most recently at Regionals in Jacksonville two weeks ago.
Now, headed to her first NCAA Championship Meet, Pappas must balance the emotions and focus that come with her final races in the Green and White as well as preparing for Sunday's graduation ceremony.
Pappas will run in the national semifinals Wednesday night at 8:45 p.m. ET with the finals set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. D'Agostino's lone race of the weekend will take place on Saturday at 1:19 p.m. ET as the finals of the 5,000 get underway from Drake Satdium.
What's it like headed to Iowa and the NCAA Championships in your final season? Explain the feeling you had at the end of the race in Jacksonville knowing you were going to NCAAs.
"I'm so excited to go to Iowa, especially with my teammate, Abbey, because the competition is going t to be fierce and fun and have all the elements of a great race. There are going to be a lot of great individual athletes there, but I'm thrilled to have someone there with me to experience it with.
This is my Senior Week, so it will be very different for me than it will be for my classmates.
Regarding the race in Florida, I just really wanted to get it done by the end of it. I knew I could get to Iowa, but I still wanted to perform well to earn my way there. It was a great feeling because Abbey and I have worked a lot on kicking at the end of the race and I haven't had a lot of opportunities to do that in the steeplechase this year since there haven't been a lot of 'kicker races'.
I think it was good practice for what I know is going to be a competitive race. I know I will be able to put that aspect back into play this week."
You've been a dominating force for the Big Green this season in the steeplechase, what's been different than in the past?
"Last year was my first year in the event, so there was a lot of ground to cover. This year, I think I'm fit enough where the 3K is not a daunting distance anymore and I can focus more on the technique or the mental aspect of it that I don't have to worry about in the mile or events that I've been doing since I was little.
I've also just being putting in a lot more time this year and I think when you do that there is always going to be growth and improvement."
Abbey talked about her excitement to be going through this with you, what's it like to have her there alongside?
"It's definitely fun to think about doing this with someone who I call a little sister, best friend and teammate. There is a great dynamic going between the two of us that I really appreciate. Especially in the last few weeks at Dartmouth, we have had those nights when we have to study, stay up late and handle our academics, while still striving for this goal that we have together.
I think it's a lot more fun when you're in this situation with someone and we usually have fun together."
As a culmination to your Dartmouth career, who have been some of the individuals who have influenced you during your time in Hanover?
"Mark Coogan has been huge because he has allowed me to believe that it was possible to get to this level. He was huge for me to get to the level I am at now.
The team in general facilitates this fun place where you want to work hard. It's become a far more positive environment now that we all know that working hard is a good and essential thing for us to be successful.
My dad has definitely been a big support for me. He has seen my trajectory over the years, never letting me get too down when I wasn't performing as well as I would've liked in the first few years. He helped me find a role no matter how I was contributing to the team."
What are your goals and expectations for yourself this week?
"I want to make it to the finals, which means I have to do well enough Wednesday night to make that happen. Also, I want to put myself in the race and really compete and not see anyone as 'too good' or 'not good enough' to be there. As a competitor you have to go in with the expectations that everyone belongs.
It's about finding that last bit of courage to really kick it at the end."
What's it like to know that you go from the track to graduation in just a span of a few days?
"I couldn't think of a better alternative to Senior Week than going to nationals. I'm going to try my best to come back and give a speech at Class Day that I'm schedule to do. I will make it or miss it by a matter of minutes, but it will be okay with me with whatever happens since I will be doing something I love.
I'm ready to graduate. I feel very much my age and am proud of putting more into less as I've grown at Dartmouth. Track has been the culminating feeling of my entire experience.
I'm going to miss a lot of things about being here, but the team is the biggest aspect of that. I know they're in good hands and they are ready to move on to next year and get started all over again in the fall."