FAIRFAX, Va. – John Seals will represent George Mason on the national stage.
The junior has qualified for the heptathlon and will compete in the NCAA Division I Men's Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 10-11 in College Station, Texas on the campus of Texas A&M University. Seals, a native of Springfield, Va., ranks 11th in the nation with a score of 5,794.
"To end up where he has ended up is fantastic," George Mason head coach Andrew Gerard said. "Obviously it is a huge breakthrough just in terms of the score but also the whole level of competition he has moved himself into. There are some big names that always get left out of the indoor NCAAs so for him to be in with those names is really pretty significant."
The last time either the George Mason men's or women's track and field team had a representative at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championship was in 2014 when Mandissa Marshall placed eighth in the women's pole vault. The men's team last had a qualifier in 2013 when David Verburg, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, competed in the 400-meter dash. Verburg, Adrian Vaughn, Angel Coburn and George Empty also finished eighth in the 4x400-meter relay at the 2013 national championships.
Only individuals with the top 16 times or marks – top 12 for relay teams – in the country qualify for the indoor national meet. And unlike the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where the top 24 qualify, there isn't a preliminary leading up to the national meet.
In addition to the smaller pool, the indoor season is more condensed, lasting less than two months for most. Thus, opportunities to qualify are fewer. And, while it is a national meet, the reach spans further with many of the best international student-athletes competing at colleges throughout the country.
"I think the indoor NCAAs is probably the hardest meet in the world to qualify for," Gerard said. "No. 1, you have some of the best foreign athletes. Not just 'Oh, the Olympic Trials might be harder to qualify or the Olympics might be harder to qualify for.' No. Because you have some of the best young athletes in the whole world here. It's not just U.S. kids. No. 2, it is so limited. It is only 16 kids. It is much smaller than the Olympic Trials or the Olympics where you have a much bigger pool. And, No. 3, you have such a small window to do it in. You've really got three, four weeks worth of useful meets to do it in. At most, you probably get one or maybe two good opportunities to get the qualifying mark."
Seals competed in the heptathlon just twice this season and made the most of both opportunities. At the Patriot Games in January, he scored 5,582 points, which set school and Field House records. Less than a month later, he'd outdo himself.
At the Atlantic 10 Indoor Championships just two weeks ago, he broke his own school and Field House records and set the A-10 Championships record with a score of 5,770 points. He captured the gold medal for one of three that weekend as he also won the 60-meter hurdles and the high jump (his third straight A-10 indoor title in the event) and was named A-10 Most Outstanding Field Performer.
In the seven-event heptathlon, he finished first in the 60-meter dash, 60-meter hurdles, the long jump, high jump and the pole vault. The performance was more than good enough to qualify him for the national meet. His score was converted to 5,794 points to account for track size.
"It is always a goal," Gerard said about meeting preseason expectations to reach the NCAA Indoor Championships. "But he broke through in so many events. The pole vault was a big one for him. The hurdles he really made a nice step this year. The long jump was good. It is always a goal but to actually put it together and have it come together at one competition, let alone at the conference meet, where he was also doing the open hurdles and the high jump – that was a tremendous weekend."
Seals, a graduate of West Springfield High School, will now compete over two days against 15 other individuals hailing from schools in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. Reaching the national meet this season Gerard hopes will springboard Seals into getting back to that stage over the next two seasons in indoor and outdoor track and field.
"To see him put it together is really nice," Gerard said. "As a junior, hopefully this means he has a couple years to get there (to the national meet), get some experience, get it right, get his feet wet and see about moving on and building on this."