Pitt runner Nkanata chases 200 title at NCAA East Regionals

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 10:51 p.m.

There will be a lot of eyes on Pitt junior runner Carvin Nkanata at the NCAA East Regional championships this weekend. For him, the most important ones probably belong to his mother and father.

Nkanata's parents will see him compete for the first time since high school when they make the trip from their hometown of Summersville, S.C., to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C.

“It's going to mean a lot to me,” said Nkanata, a transfer from Iowa Central Community College. “That was kind of a driving force behind me all year. I had to make it to regionals so my parents could come because they haven't seen me run in so long.

“Just knowing that they're watching is going to give me a whole bunch more confidence.”

The East Regional championships, which are Thursday-Saturday, serve as the qualifiers for the NCAA national championships June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. Nkanata will be joined at the regionals by 13 Pitt teammates and 41 Penn State athletes.

Nkanata will compete in the 200 meters and the 1,600 relay. He's among the favorites in the 200 after winning the event in a personal-best 20.32 seconds at the ECAC/IC4A championship meet May 12. That time ranks second in the region and fourth nationally.

“It's a tremendous confidence-booster for him,” Pitt coach Alonzo Webb said of Nkanata's time. “I think he has a different focus now than he had two weeks ago.”

If the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Nkanata can duplicate the 20.32, he easily should be among the 12 runners from the region to advance to Eugene, and he'll likely compete for a national title. Last year's 200 champion ran a 20.23, and the second-place finisher had a 20.59.

Much of this success is new to Nkanata, who didn't dominate the past two years in junior college. Webb first saw him as a freshman in a YouTube video, which is an increasingly valuable tool for coaches. A so-so sophomore season didn't attract many big-time programs, but Webb saw potential.

“Last year, he didn't run very well because I don't think he put the work in,” Webb said. “I thought he had some talent, and if he got around some of the guys we have here, he would do a great job, and he has.

“A lot of (coaches) when they saw him (this year), they were shaking their heads like, ‘We missed the boat on that one.' ”

Nkanata's season has been so impressive that he hopes to represent Kenya in the world championships this summer. Nkanata's father is Kenyan, which makes him eligible for dual citizenship. If the paperwork goes through, Nkanata will participate in the Kenyan team trials July 15-17.

“It would be real special to represent my father's country,” said Nkanata, who has never been to Kenya. “It would make him proud, for one, and I could see some of my relatives I've never met before.”

But first things first. Nkanata's parents get to see their son take a run at an NCAA title

“I know he's really going to be jacked up, trying to show them, ‘Hey, look at me,' ” Webb said. “I'm excited (they'll be there). Man, this might really be something special.”

Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jvella@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.

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