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Two Camas High School alums ran their way to the NCAA West Preliminary Meet in outdoor track and field.

Emily Thomas, a current Gonzaga University redshirt sophomore, placed 24th in the western conference, running 10,000 meters in 35:55.98. Kayla Blackford, a sophomore at Weber State in Utah, placed 38th in the same event with the time 37:34.42.

Blackford and Thomas happened to see each other at the San Francisco State Invitational in late March when they both qualified for the NCAA preliminaries and again in Austin, Texas, for the NCAA preliminaries race. They both hugged, wished each other luck and congratulated each other at the end of both races.

Thomas ran cross country in high school, but mainly focused on softball and basketball. Due to a back injury, she didn’t start running in college until her academic sophomore year. She is still eligible for another two years of running at Gonzaga.

“It was a really good fit,” Thomas said about introducing track and field into her life. “Pat Tyson, one of the best coaches in the nation, wanted me to join. It was a game changer.”

The NCAA meet in Austin was one of her most challenging races yet. There were high winds and high humidity. No one beat their personal score. In fact, she said everyone raced a full minute less than their qualifying times.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Thomas said. “Some girls had to drop out mid-race from heat exhaustion.”

Thomas’s training is quite vigorous. She runs an average of 70 to 80 miles per week throughout the year. And all the while, she studies physiology at Gonzaga with the hopes of being a physical therapist when she finishes college.

Patty Ley, her assistant coach at Gonzaga, applauds Thomas for all the work she has done, but also sees the challenges ahead.

“With longer events, you have to do much more work to prepare,” Ley said. “We found out where the weaknesses were, and we’ll be ready for next year. It’s definitely been a two year process to get her here. And it’s always more of a slow process to get better.”

Shaving off 30 seconds from her best time in the 10,000 meter run would mean running one second less during each mile, She was 1.31 minutes behind the last runner to qualify.

“It was a big honor for me,” Thomas said of the NCAA preliminary. “But not just for me. I was the first Gonzaga athlete to go. It was a big step for our program. I wanted to help show that Gonzaga will be there in the western regionals for years to come.”

She will continue her training throughout the summer in Spokane.

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