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Courtesy: Zolton Cohen

Season of Growth as Prepared Gaines for the NCAA Preliminaries

Courtesy: WMU
Release: 05/25/2016
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Western Michigan track and field's Ayiana Gaines sets to represent to program at the NCAA East Preliminary Championships on Thursday in the 400-meter dash.

Gaines qualified after running a time of 52.70 seconds at the Mid-American Conference Championships, claiming the title in the event for the second-straight year. Her time ranks her 18th in the region heading into Thursday and must place in the top 24 to move on to Friday's quarterfinals. From there the top 12 move on to Eugene, Ore., and the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

The Sound Bend, Ind., native has had plenty of success early in her career. As a sophomore she holds MAC titles in the 400-meter dash and 4x400-meter relay. She has never lost a 400 dash race at an indoor or outdoor MAC Championship so far. She also recently set the school record in the outdoor 200-meter dash and broke Bronco track and field legend Becky Horn's indoor 400 record earlier this season.

Her sophomore season has been one of growth, according to head coach Kelly Lycan.

"Athletically and personally she is different from last season," said Lycan. "Personally she has come out of her shell a bit. She's a lot more outgoing and is enjoying the inter-workings of the team and really blossoming as a person."

"Athletically we expanded her repertoire this season with adding the jumps and hurdles. We introduced the jumps last season but really went after it this year and met it with some limited success. I think doing all that stuff made her a more well-rounded athlete and added some extra explosiveness and power in her body by learning out to jump."

The key, says Lycan, was the 400-meter hurdles.

"You have to run a specific speed to get to the first hurdle on the proper leg and I think, with her sometimes starting slowly in the 400 dash, it helped a lot with her starts. She's becoming a legitimate sprinter too now that she holds the 200 record."

Gaines is looking to move past a rough meet at last season's NCAA East Preliminary Championships, where a rough start caused her to finish 37th.

"We've talked about it a lot," Lycan said. "We looked at the video and showed her how far behind she got at the beginning of the race. Nobody closes like she does in the last 100 meters, so if she can stay with people in the first part of the race I think she has a great shot to move on to Eugene."