EUGENE, Ore. - Senior middle distance runner Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (Dublin, Ireland) has qualified for a final at the NCAA Championships for the third time in her career and the first time outdoors after she advanced on time out of the semifinal round of the 800 meters at Hayward Field on Thursday evening. Cleirigh Buttner was clocked in 2:03.11 in the second of three semifinal heats and claimed one of the two on-time qualifying spots for Saturday afternoon’s final.
Villanova was one of four schools that had two qualifiers for the semifinal round of the 800 meters, with Cleirigh Buttner and sophomore McKenna Keegan (West Grove, Pa.) both racing in the second semifinal heat. Keegan made a strong NCAA Championships debut and registered a time of 2:07.39 to wrap up a successful second year of collegiate competition.
The second heat wound up being the fastest of the three sections of the 800 meters and Cleirigh Buttner moves on to the final with the fifth-fastest overall qualifying time from the semifinal round. The top two finishers in each heat and the next two fastest times make up the field for the final, which can be seen on Saturday at 7:44 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN. This is the third straight year that Cleirigh Buttner has competed at the national championships in Eugene. She previously was a second team All-American in the 800 meters two years ago and earned honorable mention All-America honors last year. Cleirigh Buttner is the Wildcats first qualifier for the final of the 800 meters outdoors since 1997.
A relatively deliberate pace for the opening lap of Thursday’s semifinal heat evolved into an all-out sprint with several runners battling for position when the bell rang for the final 400 meters. Cleirigh Buttner stayed near the middle of a group of five runners that pulled in front by the narrowest of margins at the start of the final lap. She moved towards the rail with 250 meters and held her position while having to fight hard to stay in the top four of the heat to have a chance at advancing to the final. Cleirigh Buttner made a challenge for the lead entering the final turn and wound up holding off the fifth place finisher in the heat by half a second to secure her spot in Saturday’s national championship race.
Keegan has emerged as a major contributor for the Wildcats in both the 400 meters and the 800 meters during her first two years of collegiate competition. She is a two-time All-BIG EAST performer in the 400 meters and has been both an All-American and a Penn Relays champion running the 400 meter leg of the distance medley relay. Her biggest gains since arriving on campus have come in the 800 meters however, as she also has run on two winning 4x800 teams at the Penn Relays and twice lowered her PR in the 800 meters during the current outdoor season along the way to reaching the NCAA Championships for the first time.
“I mainly ran the 400 meters [in high school] and then freshman year ran the 400 a lot but this year has been mostly the 800,” Keegan said during the NCAA East Preliminary meet two weeks ago. “I have had a little more success with it so I decided to keep it going, try to run it more outdoors as well and see where I could get with it.”
Keegan posted a then-personal best time of 2:06.20 in the 800 meters at the Florida Relays in March, then beat the mark by more than a second in the national first round heats at the East preliminary meet in Tampa. She recorded a time of 2:05.11 to automatically move on to the quarterfinals, then raced to a time of 2:05.16 in the first quarterfinal heat and had to wait through two more heats to see if her time would hold up and punch her ticket to this week’s national meet. It did, and as a result Keegan will earn her first career outdoor All-American honor when those accolades are officially announced next week.