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Piazza, Purrier headed to NCAAs

UNH will be sending two of its elite athletes to compete in the NCAA Championships this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.  Junior Drew Piazza and sophomore Elinor Purrier will look to lay down some of their fastest times ever on the indoor track.

In order to qualify for the NCAA championship meet, the vastly competitive field is whittled down to just the top 16 times or distances for each event. That means the best of the best will be there, including track and field powerhouse schools such as Texas A&M, Florida State, and many more.  There are currently over 300 Division I track and field programs across the nation, so for UNH to be sending two runners this weekend is a huge accomplishment.      

Piazza has been consistent this season while aiming for nationals.  His 800-meter time of 1-minute, 47.28 seconds that he ran at the John Thomas Terrier Invitational on Feb. 29 is the tenth-fastest time in the nation this indoor track season.  Having missed qualifying for the NCAA championships last outdoor season by one spot, Piazza has had his eyes on this meet for a very long time. This will be his first national championship appearance. 

I don’t think it has quite hit me yet, considering that whenever I think of myself on the starting line at NCAA’s I think of it as a dream, rather than a reality,” Piazza said. “I think it’ll hit me later on in the week, when I get to Alabama, and then I’ll be able to enjoy the entire experience completely. But other than that, it’s an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment to finally be where I’ve worked so hard to be.”

“It’s a stacked field and I feel he can run with anyone that’s out there,” men’s head coach Robert Boulanger said of Piazza’s ability. “He is the outlier of the group.  People look and say he doesn’t belong there.  I’d say with his two splits of a comfortable 47.7 [seconds] last week that I’m not worried about the speed aspect.”  Piazza is the first member of the men’s team to go to indoor nationals since Randy Hall in 1990.

“I believe if you asked him, he’s dreamed the dream,” said Boulanger. “Somehow a former soccer player saw himself outside of it as a runner and he’s dreamed the dream about being there.” 

Regardless of what she does this weekend, Elinor Purrier has already stamped her name as one of the greats in the ‘Cats long list of athletes, and she’s only a sophomore.  With a mile time of 4:29.71, Purrier has claimed another school record this season and has the fastest-ranked time in the nation in the mile.  This time is currently 2.43 seconds ahead of the next best miler, which is a significant time difference.

Unlike Piazza, experience at the national level is in Purrier’s favor. Purrier will be competing in her third national championships.  She competed at the outdoor championships last spring in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, finishing seventh.  As for indoor track, she finished 15th in her freshman year in the mile with a time of 4:48.82 at the national championships, the same meet she is set to compete in this weekend.   

“Championships racing is usually tactical, but having that three second [faster] seed time certainly proves that there’s nobody in the field that can run away from her if they decide to have a fast race,” Hoppler said of Purrier’s position in the race.   

“For Ellie to be the top time and for Drew to be number ten, it just shows where the UNH track program is at,” he said. “It’s a huge accomplishment just to get to the meet. She still has two full more years of eligibility so she’s a very young athlete actually, so that’s cool being able to go into the meet seeded so high and being so young. It takes a little bit of the pressure off.” 

With a good amount of experience already, Purrier will be given another chance to grow this weekend and enjoy another berth in the championships. 

“It’s just a fun atmosphere and a fun trip,” she said. “It’s great to be here and exciting to be on these kinds of trips and to be on them with a teammate (Piazza) and not alone, and I think it’s great for the program.”

Purrier and Piazza will be competing in the preliminary round of racing on Friday before potentially moving onto the finals in the second day of racing to face off against the best eight.

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