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Two UB athletes are in good company; Golabek, Henry are set for nationals

To look at the performance lists in their events is to realize what the University at Buffalo's Rob Golabek and Asia Henry already have accomplished.

High on the ranking of NCAA qualifiers in the shot put are three representatives from the athletic powerhouse of Texas, along with competitors from Penn State, Auburn, Georgia and Arizona State. And then suddenly comes Golabek, a UB senior, ranked ninth, a Mid-American Conference interloper among a slew of athletes from BCS automatic-qualifier schools.

It's the same in the women's 800 meters: Tennessee, BYU, LSU and the like, until, at No. 7, there's Henry, right behind a runner from Stanford and ahead of qualifiers from Cincinnati and North Carolina.

"When we go to the other meets like Texas Relays and Florida Relays, the coaches are like, 'All the way from Buffalo, snow country ' ," Henry said. "They didn't even know we have a track team or anything."

Henry's surprise ascent coupled with Golabek's return visit gives UB dual representation at this week's NCAA Track and Field Championships at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Henry, a junior from Wilson Magnet School in Rochester, competes in the 800 preliminaries Wednesday evening, aiming to advance to Friday's final. Golabek, a senior from Frontier in Hamburg, missed first-team All-America honors by one place last year in finishing ninth. He throws Saturday.

Also competing is Lancaster graduate Melissa Kurzdorfer, who is now at Penn State. She is ranked 10th in the hammer throw.

For Golabek, the last year's been spent preparing for this competition.

"Once you set a level of success you always want to surpass it the next season," he said last Friday. "In my head, with everything we did with training, I knew everything went well and if I was lucky enough to stay healthy that we'd be able to contend for another national championship. That was the main goal."

A national championship?

"The main thing to do is to win a national championship," Golabek said. "That's never been done here before. There's a few things left on my checklist to do. Obviously I want to earn All-American again. But I want to bring home a ring. I want to bring home a ring for my team, for my coaches, for my family, for my city. Being born and raised in Buffalo, I want to bring that one back for everybody."

There's about a two-foot difference between Golabek's East Regional throw and that of top-ranked Hayden Baillio of Texas. That doesn't deter him. He's capable of better and others are capable of worse.

"The cool thing about track and field is you don't have to be the best distance (for the season), you have to be the thrower on that day," said Golabek, UB's 2011 Male Athlete of the Year. "A person can have an amazing throw during the season and if they don't do it on that day it doesn't matter. You got to show up on the day. The No. 1 thrower could be there, he could show up, he could not show up."

Consistency is Golabek's calling card. As he puts it, he can be roused from a deep sleep and throw 63 feet. He was the only competitor among the top nine at the regionals who avoided a foul.

While Golabek yearns to compete against the best, the surprising Henry remains in awe of the company she's keeping. She ran 2:07.55 in placing third at the MAC Championships, then shaved nearly three seconds off that time in finishing fourth overall at the regionals in 2:04.99.

"I would have never, ever expected it," Henry said. "I'm still in disbelief about it. It's just amazing. I would have never thought it at all. At all. I still can't believe I ran that time. I don't know where those three seconds came from. They just came off. It's crazy."

Her feelings heading into the nationals: Scared. Nervous. Excited.

"It's scary to actually be able to compete with those level of girls," she said. "Everyone's like, 'Why do you keep saying, 'Those levels?' You're a part of it now.' I just thought I would never be able to compete with them because they're so well known and stuff like that."

"I still feel out of it, which is good. I don't want to go into it too, too confident and then I run horrible. I want to feel like, 'OK, Asia, you're still an underdog. Just because you got here to this level you still need to do what you need to do. Don't expect that you should be here. Still work hard like these girls who already made a name for themselves.' "

Henry has exceeded what she hoped to accomplished this season.

"My goal was try to make just regionals," she said. "To be able to go further than that, I feel was like a blessing. It's a miracle to me."

"We're hanging in there," Golabek said. "The little school from Buffalo."