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Dunagan becomes latest OVC finals' qualifier, Cook becomes third Eagle to fall one spot short

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One year after Michael Dunagan placed seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference Track and Field Championship finals of the 800-meter run in a time of 1:54.89, the Morehead State sophomore took seventh in Wednesday's qualifying round of this year's meet in 1:54.42 on Day 2 at the Roy Stewart Stadium and Hamilton Field on the campus of Murray State University in Murray, Ky.

"I think today went pretty well. It was a semi-successful day," Morehead State track and field coach Clay Dixon said. "Sierra (Kelley) ran a season best in the 400 and Mike (Dunagan) advanced to the finals in the 800. But Toby (Cook) missed the finals (of the 800m) by eight-tenths of a second, that was the biggest thing. That hurt."

Cook became the third Eagle in the first two days of the conference meet to place one spot off the list of finals' qualifiers, with a fourth individual finishing two places before the cutline.

Unlike yesterday, when sophomores Kyle Embry and Laikin Tarlton both finished 13th in the 1,500-meter run to fall outside of the 12 qualifying spots by one and three seconds, respectively, Cook, also a sophomore, missed the mark by less than one tenth of a second after taking third in the third heat. UT Martin junior Luke McNair clocked a 1:54.68 to claim eighth overall and fourth in heat one.

"He went out and took the lead and led the whole thing, but it was a real slow heat. He had a five-to-10-meter gap at the bell, but then (the rest of the field) started pulling up on him. With about 300 meters to go two Southeast Missouri guys took the lead, but since they went out so slow, he needed to finish in the top two to guarantee a spot in the finals," Dixon said. "You could tell he was going all out down the stretch and he even dove at the finish line. He gave it all he had and he missed it by eight tenths of a second for an at-large bid. But, he can take solace in the fact that he left it all out there."

In spite of Cook's result, Dunagan qualified for the finals for the second straight year. He finished second in the second heat to Eastern Illinois' Joshua Whitaker (1:53.97).

"He went out conservatively and slowly moved his way up. When the bell hit, he moved up from fifth place. It wasn't until he was about 160 meters away that he moved into second position," Dixon said. "He got up to second position and he and the first-place guy just cruised in. They were pretty clearly in front and the top two were guaranteed to advance, so he didn't have to push it.

After the race, Dunagan felt like he could improve on his finish.

"He said he felt like it was a rep for a workout and he had a second gear that he could have kicked into," Dixon said.

Two other sophomores also ran the 800m. Wes Grogan finished 13th overall and fifth in his heat in a time of 1:56.95, while Liam Dale was 20th overall and seventh in his flight.

"Wes was in the lead for a while. There was 150 meters left when Mike (Dungan) passed him, but it's tough to get in the 800 finals," Dixon said. "Liam was a long shot to be in contention. His shoe got untied a few meters into the race and he said it was just loose the rest of the way. (However), it was his second fastest time ever. He'd only gone under two minutes once and that was (three weeks ago) at UK.

Running in the third heat, Southeast Missouri's Terrico Garrett posted the top time of 1:53.05.

Junior Sierra Kelley placed 16th in the 400-meter dash in 1:00.81. Freshman Keana Meriwether followed in 19th in 1:03.22.

"Sierra looked really strong. She was slowly gaining on people the entire time," Dixon said. "Keana didn't look like she really had it. She started well, but didn't have that second gear down the home stretch. It was her first time running with a big field like that."

Freshman Grace Lopez rounded out the team by placing 22nd in the 100-meter dash in a time of 13.36. It was her first individual event in just over a month.

"She hasn't been able to practice a whole lot," Dixon said.

The Eagles did not have an entry in the women's 800-meter run, although Dixon debated whether or not to have freshman Lucy Singleton in the race. The results reinforced his choice was the correct one.

"I'm very glad we made the right decision in the girls' 800," he said. "Lucy would've had to have run a four-second personal best (to qualify for the finals)."

With two days completed, Southeast Missouri remains in the lead of the men's team standings. The Redhawks have 129 points. Eastern Illinois is in second with 77 points, slightly ahead of Belmont with 74 points. Morehead State has yet to score, but has only competed in one event final. Host Murray State has moved in front on the women's side with 86 points. SEMO (77) and Belmont (75) are atop the chasing pack. Only eight of the 10 ladies' squads have scored. Like the Eagle men, Morehead State has only run in one race where points have been awarded.

Competition concludes on Friday and Morehead State will have representatives in seven events. The action will begin at noon ET with the shot put. The Eagles first race will be the women's 4x100-meter relay at 1:40 p.m. ET. The women's 1,500m will start at 2 p.m. ET. The men's 800m start gun will go off at 3:10 p.m. MSU will have runners in both the men's and women's 5K, which is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the day's final races, the 4x400-meter relay. The men's competition will begin at 5:15 p.m., with the women to follow at 5:25 p.m. The OVC will recognize all graduating seniors who are participating at the meet at 5:45 p.m. ET, before holding the awards ceremonies at 6 p.m. ET.

Final day action can be viewed on ESPN+ by checking out the link: https://www.espn.com/watch/player?id=111d1b52-4478-42dc-b849-df2a84bd1e57. Live results can also be found through the link: http://cfpitiming.com/2022_Outdoor_Season/OVC_2022/OVC_Outdoor_2022.html.

By Brad Laux, MSU Athletic Media Relations