Two MW student-athletes looking for Indoor Track & Field National Championships

March 5, 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Some of the specifics of Mason Finely's first exposure to the sport of track and field may be a little fuzzy, but there's one indelible memory that the Wyoming junior won't forget.

When Finley was no more than 6 or 7 years old, his father, Jared (a former track and field competitor at Wyoming), took a pair of Frisbees, placed some sand between them and taped them together.

"That was my first attempt at throwing the discus," Finley said.

The Buena Vista, Colo., native has come a long way since then.

On Friday, he'll attempt to create another lasting image as he enters the 2013 NCAA Men's Indoor Track and Field Championships (held March 8-9 in Fayetteville, Ark.) ranked second in the nation in the Shot Put, only trailing three-time defending champion Jordan Clarke of Arizona State.

"I'm excited; it's going to be a good time," Finley said. "Practice has been going really well and I'm expecting a big throw."

An eight-time All-American while at the University of Kansas, Finley has gone from Colorado prep standout (he holds the national high school record in the Discus at 236'-6.00'' and also set a Colorado state record in the Shot Put with a toss of 71'-8.50'' in 2009) to one of the nation's elite throwers.

"Having an athlete like Mason is amazing for the program," said first-year Wyoming coach Bryan Berryhill. "We knew when he transferred here that he'd bring that notoriety with him, and he's given us a lot of exposure."

He's also proven to be very coachable. When he first arrived on the Wyoming campus, Associate Head Track and Field Coach - Throws, Paul Barrett, noticed a very minor flaw in Finley's technique that he thought he could improve. The two worked hand-in-hand to correct the issue and the results have proven themselves out in the field.

"Mason's been a great thrower for quite a few years, so for him to be that receptive to Paul and be willing to work something that could make his throws more consistent, it just speaks to what kind of athlete Mason is."

Finley's first season in a Wyoming uniform has certainly placed more eyes on the Cowboys' program, and with good reason. He was named the Mountain West Men's Most Outstanding Performer at the 2013 MW Indoor Track & Field Championships for his victory in the Shot Put and second-place finish in the Weight Throw, and on Monday was named the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Mountain Region Men's Field Athlete of the Year award winner.

He also holds the school's all-time mark in the Shot Put, as his throw of 65'-9.75'' back in January at the Air Force Invitational is the second-best distance in MW history.

Finley's throws in the Shot Put are far-reaching and impressive, but here's the scary thing ... it's not his best event.

"I prefer the discus," said Finley, who will redshirt this outdoor season and then compete fully in 2013-14.

As mentioned, Finley shattered the national high school Discus mark as a teenager, and he's continued to be a dominant Discus thrower at the collegiate level. He earned a qualifying spot at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, and while he didn't make the team, there's no question that 2016 is something on his radar.

"Going to trials last year was a great experience," Finley said. "I learned a lot from being there and while I don't know what's going to happen between now and (2016), I do know that I'm going to work my butt off for 2016 and try and let it fly."

Berryhill certainly won't be surprised to see Finley in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, site of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

"Mason's potential is unlimited," Berryhill said. "He's got the strength, the size and the focus. "I go back to what (Barrett) saw in his form and it's hard for an athlete to be willing to listen to something like that, but it's a credit to him that he's that coachable. He could be really amazing, and I think it's easy to picture him competing for the United States in 2016."

SDSU's Thomas looking for gold

Finley isn't the only MW student-athlete with 2016 Olympic dreams. San Diego State's Shanieka Thomas nearly qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, finishing third in the Triple Jump at the Jamaican Olympic Trials, and will be looking to make the team in 2016.

This season, though, the St. Andrew, Jamaica, native has been all about dominating the collegiate competition. On Feb. 8 in Albuquerque, N.M., Thomas unleashed a jump that caught everyone - judges included - off-guard.

"When I jumped, I didn't realize how far it was," she said. "The meet officials didn't put up the right mark at first, but when I found out what the real number was I couldn't believe I had jumped that."

That would be 46'-2.50'' (14.08 meters). Not only did the jump shatter the San Diego State and MW all-time record, but it was the sixth-best Triple Jump in NCAA history. Her mark would've won 14 of the last 15 NCAA Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships, including the last four.

"It was just an amazing feeling, because that's really a huge jump for indoor," Thomas said. "I wasn't expecting to jump that far that weekend. It was a big accomplishment."

Thomas, a junior, enters the 2013 NCAA Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships with the nation's best jump, and she's eager to improve upon her ninth- and seventh-place finishes as a freshman and sophomore, respectively.

"I want to win," said Thomas, who won the Triple Jump for the second straight year at the 2013 MW Indoor Track & Field Championships, and was named the Women's Most Outstanding Performer. "Given the past two years I wasn't in the top-three, I am hungry to be there."

San Diego State head coach Shelia Burrell says that Thomas won't be intimidated by her fellow competitors at nationals.

"Hitting the 14-meter mark has been a goal for her and coach (Carjay) Lyles, but her ability is bigger than that," Burrell said. "With competition, it's about what happens on that day. We are feeling optimistic about what her potential is. If she's doing this in indoor, her outdoor season could be really good."

Burrell, says that while Thomas is an elite triple-jumper, she's more than just a one-event specialist.

"She's a phenomenal talent," said Burrell, who guided the Aztecs to the 2013 MW Women's Indoor Track & Field Championship for the first time and was named the USTFCCCA West Region Women's Coach of the Year. "She doesn't just jump; she runs and trains very hard. She took second in the 400 (Meters) and ran the 4x400 (Relay). The 400 is a new event for her; she ran it twice last year and only a few times this year. It's a testament to what type of athlete she is.

"We talk about training and competing with a standard of excellence. We want to be able to win and everyone wants to win, but I think you have different victories along the way and we are winning right now in terms of developing athletes."

If anyone has an eye for elite talent, it's Burrell. A two-time U.S. Olympian in the Heptathlon (2000 and 2004, where she finished fourth), Burrell says that Thomas has been a big part in helping build the Aztecs Track and Field program.

"Shanieka was in that first class when I took the job here," Burrell said. "I sent coach (Carjay) Lyles down to Jamaica to see her. Our recruiting classes have improved each year and we've got a special kid in each class, and that definitely helps. We've done a good job of identifying and attracting talent across the board."

Burrell has little doubt that if Thomas stays the course with her training that she'll be an Olympic athlete in 2016.

"Oh definitely, without a doubt," Burrell said. "She'll be one of (Jamaica's) top triple jumpers, hands-down. She just has to stay the course, stick with the plan and keep on believing. You have to believe in yourself. Coach Lyles and Shanieka believe that she is capable of doing it; it's that intangible thing that you can't coach."

Other MW student-athletes competing at 2013 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships:
Emma Bates, Jr., Boise State (5000 Meters)
Josephine Moultrie, Sr., New Mexico (3000 Meters)
Je'Nia Sears, So., Fresno State (Long Jump)
Luke Caldwell, Jr., New Mexico (5000 Meters)
Floyd Ross, Sr., New Mexico (Triple Jump)
Cale Simmons, Sr., Air Force (Pole Vault)
Kendall Spencer, Jr., New Mexico (Long Jump - 2012 National Champion)
Joey Uhle, So., Air Force (Pole Vault)