By Alex Holwerda
Special to the Sentinel-Tribune
On national television Saturday, Bowling Green State University senior thrower Zaresha Neal will be competing for an NCAA Division I outdoor discus championship.
The meet will be held at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the campus of the University of Texas. The discus is set to start at 8:35 p.m., with a live stream available on ESPN+.
Neal says her faith in her Lord and Savior gives her strength when she competes at the high level that she does. Her faith has also helped her through her recent hardship of not qualifying for shot put in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship this season.
“I was bummed that I did not qualify for shot put. I prayed and asked God to please help me get through this,” Neal said.
“I needed to calm my nerves a little bit (in order to qualify for discus). It was definitely needed and when the first throw was successful, I had to just keep trucking.”
And keep trucking, Neal did. Neal got a score of 53.1 meters (174 feet, two inches) on her second throw in the second flight.
“Looking at the second flight and my name on the paper, I was not supposed to get out, but I did. I got a 53 on my second throw and I gave my peace at the second throw,” Neal said.
“Low and behold, I made it out. Unfortunately, I wanted to make it for both shot put and discus, but I am happy that I can compete at the championship.”
Neal finished third in her flight and 10th overall. Going into the East Regional, she was one of the top 48 athletes from the MAC Conference’s East Region competing for the top 12 spots to qualify for the national championship.
“The numbers are important because throwing a 53 at the collegiate level is a big success. When compared to the MAC Conference, you get placed pretty high,” Neal said.
“I won MAC. In terms of the national level, put 53.1 meters in and you are looking at the top throwers in the competition.”
Neal’s discus throw is the best NCAA regional mark in BGSU program history. It is the seventh-best mark in program history, giving her eight of the top nine marks in school history.
This is the third time Neal qualified for the NCAA championships during her career, with this being her second appearance at the outdoor championship. This is the first time she has qualified in the discus, one year after qualifying in the shot put.
Neal is the first Falcon to qualify for the NCAA championship in the discus since Beth Manson, who punched her ticket in 1989. Neal also finished 10th in the shot put at the 2022 NCAA regional.
Neal extends BGSU’s streak of national qualifiers to 10 consecutive seasons, all of which have featured athletes who have qualified on multiple occasions.
Neal joins fellow throwers Brooke Pleger, Aliyah Gustafson, and Kaila Butler, as well as distance runner Rachel Walny.
Since coach Lou Snelling began his tenure in 2011-12, the Falcons have produced 13 qualifiers to the NCAA outdoor championship. Neal is the first to qualify after being seeded 20th or lower.
Neal is also among Five student-athletes from the BGSU track program have been named to the 2022-23 College Sports Communicators Academic All-District Team.
Darian Braddix, Mateya Haintz, Jemeila Hunter, Neal, and Katerina Shuble all collected honors for the Falcons. All five also received All-MAC honors during the 2023 season.
Neal has a 4.0 GPA while working for her Master of Business Administration degree.
Neal totaled three individual MAC titles and eight MAC Field Athlete of the Week honors during the 2022-23 season.
She also won the shot put at the MAC indoor championship, then won it again at the MAC outdoor championship. She also won the discus at the MAC outdoor championship, qualifying for the NCAA East Regional in both events.
At regionals, she exceeded her No. 23 seed in the shot put, finishing 17th. She received the MAC Medal of Excellence and was named Academic All-MAC.