With a second-place finish in the second heat of the 200, Walker locked up one of eight spots in June 14 final scheduled to take place at 4:42 p.m. CST. His 20.70 clocking into a 2.4 mph headwind at Hayward Field was fifth-fastest among the field of 24 national semifinalists.
Walker also competed in the 100 meter final June 13 and is the first in Northwestern’s storied track and field history to reach the 100 and 200 national finals. He is also only the second Demons sprinter to earn All-America honors in two events at one NCAA championship. Mark Duper was fourth in the 1982 NCAA 100 dash and ran on NSU’s second-place 4x100 meter relay team, a year after anchoring the legendary 1981 4x100 quartet that won the NCAA championship.
The Slidell-Northshore product, who is just three hours shy of earning his NSU diploma, didn’t mind listening to a rundown of his accomplishments but wasn’t basking in them.
“That’s all nice to hear, but really, right now it doesn’t mean anything. Now it’s all about going out Friday and trying to be the first person across the line, winning a national championship,” said Walker. “Then the same opportunity is out there Saturday afternoon, but I won’t give that another thought until we finish the 100.”
Less than a half-hour after the 200, following a chat with NSU sprints coach Chad Leath and a visit with his father, Walker had already shifted gears to the shorter sprint with a different mindset.
“Now I’m not so much racing people as I’m racing against the clock to do the best I can do. If I do that, then I’ll be happy,” he said. “As long as I’m able to execute my race plan, I feel very good about what can happen.”
In his heat of the 200, Walker started well and took the lead before Florida’s Dedric Dukes nudged ahead in the final 80 meters, finishing in 20.62. He and Walker were well ahead of the third-place finisher, UTA’s Vaughn in 20.87, the eighth and final qualifier for Saturday’s championship race.
“We got through the curve and when we hit the straightaway, we were greeted with a pretty good headwind. I thought we handled it alright and I got done what I set out to do. I’m satisfied with my performance today and hopefully I can do even better tomorrow,” said Walker.
USC’s Aaron Brown was the fastest qualifier with a 20.45 into an 0.6 mph headwind in the first heat, trailed by LSU’s Aaron Ernst in 20.55. Dukes had the third-best time Thursday, with Baylor’s Everett Walker fourth (20.64, winning the third heat with a 1.2 mph tailwind), followed by NSU’s Walker, Oregon’s Arthur Delaney (20.71 in the third heat), Auburn’s Khalil Henderson (20.77 in the wind-friendly third heat) and Vaughn of UTA.
LSU’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake ran 12th (20.93) and Louisiana Tech’s Trey Hadnot was 20th in 21.31, finishing seventh in Walker’s heat.
Walker now has two chances to add his name to one of the most exclusive lists in school history. NSU has cheered three NCAA champions – Duper, Joe Delaney, Mario Johnson and Victor Oatist on the 4x100 relay in 1981, high jumper Brian Brown at the 1990 NCAA Indoors, and women’s discus thrower Trecey Rew in 2011.
When the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association makes it official next week, Walker will become a three-time All-American, having gotten his first national honor on the Demons’ 11th-place 4x100 relay last year. The top eight finishers at the NCAA meets earn first-team honors while the next eight are second-team selections.
Despite a still-sore Achilles’ heel, Walker has put to rest doubters who discounted his 9.95 time in winning the Southland 100 title last month because of an 11th-place 10.31 at the East regional qualifiers two weeks ago. Demons’ coach Mike Heimerman chuckled in anticipation of watching Walker Friday night – and again Saturday, running for national titles.
“He’ll have the game plan tomorrow, it’ll be prime time, and I think he’ll go do what he does,” said Heimerman. “He wants to be sure everybody knows who he is before he leaves.”