Belmont sprinter aims for memorable finish to college career

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 6:13pm

Lynette Rives is accustomed to strong finishes.

It makes sense, therefore, that she has qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in this, her senior season. It’s no surprise either that the event in which she made it for the second straight year is the 200-meter dash.

“There’s enough room for error in the 200 to overcome mistakes you make early in the race,” she said. “The turn is about the worst part of my race, but I make up a lot of ground when I get on the straightaway.”

Rives, a product of Rossview High School in Clarksville, is the first track and field athlete in Belmont history to make the NCAA championship meet in consecutive seasons. She also is the school’s only All-American since 2000, a distinction she earned when she advanced to the semifinals at the 2008 national championship meet.

Predictably, though, her final year of college competition started slowly.

A back injury, the result of wear and tear, caused her to miss several weeks of training and led to what she considered a sub-par indoor season.

“This year didn’t go smooth at all,” she said. “It’s only been recently, probably right before regionals (May 29-30 at Louisville), that I started running the times I felt I should. Now I feel like I’ve got it together.”

The entire field of 30 runners in the women’s 200 is separated by just 1.14 seconds, based on seed times. Rives’ best is 23.28 seconds, which she ran when she finished third at the regional meet, and is tied for 10th-fastest.

Preliminary rounds will take place 6:10 p.m. (CDT) and the semifinals will follow at 7:35 p.m. The final will be contested 12:35 p.m. Saturday and will be televised live by CBS (Comcast Ch. 5).

This year’s meet is at the University of Arkansas, a track Rives says she likes.

“She’s definitely focused,” Belmont assistant coach Cameron Harvey said. “We were on the track (Tuesday) going through a workout and you could tell she was ready.

“Having experience at a meet like this makes it easier. The NCAA meet is like no other because there’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through … in terms of where to be, when you’re supposed to be there and things with television.”

Even so, Rives, who graduated in May with a degree in biology, described the atmosphere and level of competition as “stressful.”

“I would love to make the finals,” she said. “You always want to do better than you did the year before.”

Much in the same way she constantly aims for better performances in the first half of the race.

“I wouldn’t say she’s a terrible curve runner,” Harvey said. “But she is what I would call a closer because she makes up a lot of ground on the straightaway. That’s where she passes a lot of people.

“At a meet like this, if she’s not in first place coming off the turn she won’t panic.”