FRESNO, Calif. — Six Southern Oregon track and field athletes hit the track in preliminary races Thursday at the 56th annual NAIA National Track and Field Championships, with four qualifying for later rounds.

FRESNO, Calif. — Six Southern Oregon track and field athletes hit the track in preliminary races Thursday at the 56th annual NAIA National Track and Field Championships, with four qualifying for later rounds.

Kevin Jeffers, Trevor Palmer, Jeff Olsen and Cameron Kreuz earned their way to semifinal and final races scheduled for today and Saturday.

Emily Dunn and Brett Hopt also competed in the Day 1 action, but failed to advance.

In the 3,000-meter steeplechase, junior Jeffers led the Raiders with the highest finish on the day by qualifying sixth. Jeffers clocked a time of 9 minutes, 21.07 seconds while Olsen, a senior, finished 12th in the qualifying standards with a time of 9:14.85 seconds. Both will compete in the finals on Saturday. Virginia International's Daniel Cheromei won the prelims in a record NAIA Championships time of 8:40.02.

In the men's 1,500, senior Palmer placed ninth in 3:53.29 seconds, just 1.27 seconds shy of the standard set by Cornerstone's (Mi.) Derek Scott (3:52.02). The finals in the 1,500 will be contested Saturday.

Sophomore Kreuz was the final Raider to advance Thursday, earning the final qualifying spot in the 800 after placing 18th with a near season-best of 1:54.25. The semifinals will be today. Elphas Sang of Mid-American Nazarene clocked the fastest time in the prelims at 1:51.95.

Competing in her first of two events for the meet, the senior Dunn clocked a time of 25.65 in the 200 to place 21st out of 24 runners. Huston-Tilloston's Mary Russell won the event with a time of 24.40. Dunn will compete in the 100 prelims today, with the finals slated later tonight.

Hopt, a sophomore, ran his second-fastest race of the season in the 400 hurdles on Thursday. He clocked a time of 55.58, good for 20th place, but not enough to advance him to the semifinal round. Corey Grafe, a sophomore from Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) won the preliminaries with a time of 52.93.

Along with the four Raiders who advanced from Thursday's preliminaries and Dunn, who will compete in her second event of the weekend, the Raiders look forward to competitions from Daniel Cecchini in the high jump, Grant Brannaman in the pole vault and Alicia Jeffers in the women's 5,000. The high jump and the 5,000 semifinal will be contested today, with the pole vault and 5,000 final slated for Saturday.