Track & field: Avery McMullen, CU Buffs ready to take off as hosts of Pac-12 finals

May 9—Forget the altitude advantage. Or even the unique opportunity to host the final edition of a marquee event in your own newly renovated facility.

For seniors like Avery McMullen, competing in Colorado's final Pac-12 Conference event at home allowed for a privilege precious few of McMullen's predecessors on the Buffaloes track and field team were able to enjoy.

"I actually get to go to graduation this year," McMullen said last week as she prepared for her final postseason as CU's heptathlon specialist. "People usually have to miss graduation because we have to travel that day."

Folsom Field hosted commencement ceremonies on Thursday, but on Friday the scene shifts to the sparkling new facilities at Potts Field, as the Buffs host the final Pac-12 outdoor track and field championships before the member schools scatter to various new conferences. It will be the first time CU has hosted a league final since the 2008 Big 12 championships, which once again will be the Buffs' conference home next year.

McMullen, who leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth nationally in the heptathlon, won't be the only senior who gets to say farewell to campus while competing for a conference crown. But her journey to CU and her elite status nationally has been marked by fortuitous twists of fate.

While fellow senior and conference title candidate Abbey Glynn grew up just a distance event away in Longmont, McMullen was a soccer-playing youngster in Franklin, Tenn., when she started focusing on multiple track events later in high school. McMullen had never visited Colorado before a family vacation ahead of her senior year. While in a Boulder hotel, McMullen said it was an off-the-cuff decision to send an email to CU assistant and lead combined events/jumps coach, Lindsey Malone.

Not only did Malone offer a quick response, but the coach was leading a campus tour for McMullen and her family within hours. The rest, as they say, is history, as McMullen placed 12th in the heptathlon at the NCAA championships in 2022 and placed 10th last year. McMullen has the top mark in the Pac-12 going into this weekend's meet and has already qualified for the NCAA West Preliminaries in two weeks.

According to coach as well as athlete, it was a perfect pairing from the start.

"Everything she said was exactly the way I'd have wanted to hear it," Malone said. "Instantaneously when I read (the email), I wanted to meet this person right now. It's pretty much been a match made in heaven ever since. I know what I'm capable of coaching with the right person, with the right attitude, with where they're coming from. Avery definitely was somebody in that category and I thought we could do some pretty amazing things."

Glynn enters her final Pac-12 championship ranked fourth in the league in the 400 and third in the 400 meter hurdles. Distance runner Bailey Hertenstein also will be a runner to watch, while on the men's side both Austin Vancil (second, 13:37.20) and Elias Lindgren (fifth, 13:46.75) are ranked in the top five of the 5K.

McMullen said she's aiming for a heptathlon mark this postseason of 6,000, which is the qualifying standard for this summer's Olympic trials. Taking an extra May road trip out of the equation could aid the Buffs as the postseason unfolds.

"I'm so excited that it's my fifth year and hopefully I'm at the peak of my career," McMullen said. "I'm sad the Pac-12 is leaving, but I'm glad we're the last ones to do it. Not having to travel right before (NCAAs) is a huge advantage.

"If (Malone) wouldn't have responded while I still was in Colorado, who knows what would've happened? I'm going to miss coach Malone and my whole team, but we've still got a lot of the season left, hopefully."

Pac-12 outdoor track and field championships

STARTING BLOCK: Friday through Sunday, Potts Field

WHEN: Events begin at 11 a.m. on Friday, 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, and at 11 a.m. on Sunday for field events and 1 p.m. for track events.

TV — The Pac-12 Network will air intermittent recorded coverage on Friday and Saturday, with live coverage on Sunday.

NOTES: Among the events to watch for CU fans will be Mead graduate Abbey Glynn, running at home for the final time, in the 400 meter hurdles (preliminaries at 5:05 p.m. on Friday; final at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday) and the 400 meter run (preliminaries at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday; final at 1:55 p.m. on Sunday). ... CU will have contenders in all the distance events. The women's preliminary heats in the 1,500 begin at 4 p.m. on Friday with the men to follow. The finals begin at 1:20 p.m. on Sunday. The back-to-back finals in the 10K caps Friday's opening day, with the women starting at 5:50 and the men to follow. ... The 5K finals will be Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. for the women, followed by the men. ... CU will begin competition in the NCAA West Preliminaries on May 22 in Fayetteville, Ark.