ASHLAND — After two months of meets, after all the practices, after all the events, it's that time of year again.

ASHLAND — After two months of meets, after all the practices, after all the events, it's that time of year again.

Nationals.

The Southern Oregon University track and field team will have 26 athletes in competition Thursday through Saturday at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., for the 2011 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Nationals.

Sixteen men and 10 women qualified in individual and relay events.

"We are going into the meet with much more depth than we have had in the past," said SOU head coach Brent Ericksen, "and it will be exciting to see exactly where that puts us in terms of team placing. It should be fun."

The Raider men could challenge their best-ever placing of sixth, which was achieved in 2005 and 1989.

SOU has four runners in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, led by junior James Johnstone, who is ranked third in the nation with a time of 9:04.03. Teammate Josh Seitz is seventh.

"We've got a good group," said Raiders distance coach Bob Julian. "They do everything they're asked. They're enthusiastic."

Other top distance entrants are senior Kelly Clark in the 5,000 race walk. She's ranked third with a time of 24:50.94. She just missed out on All-American status a year ago.

Decathlete Alex Waroff, a senior from Rogue River, is the Raider's lone returning All-American. The team captain is looking to improve on his sixth-place finish from last year, when he scored 6,620 points. He's ranked fifth nationally.

"I'm shooting for 7,000," said Waroff, "which would probably put me up in the top three."

Waroff scored 6,617 points at the Mt. Hood Multi-Meet on April 11, earning an automatic national bid.

Zach Elliott, a 2009 Crater graduate, is ranked 14th in the 10,000, making his second trip to nationals.

"I'm pretty nervous, cause there are over 60 guys in this race," said Elliott. "I just want to go out at an even pace and run a really good time."

Elliott got the NAIA "A" standard, or the automatic bid for nationals, with a 30:50.64 time at the Willamette Invitational. Last year, he finished 22nd in the 10,000.

Junior Ryan Sorenson is ranked seventh in the 10,000.

Another Crater alum, sophomore discus thrower Holly Haga, and Lane Community College transfer Max Perry, a junior, lead SOU in the throws.

"I'm excited for them," said Raiders throwing coach Mike Schaan. "They're peaking at the right time. We're just excited to go."

Haga is ranked 19th nationally with a throw of 142 feet, 8 inches. Her mark came at the Oregon-California Border Clash.

Haga made nationals last year but didn't advance to the finals.

"I'm excited to be going to nationals as a sophomore, but I'm more excited to be going with a bigger team than last year," she said. "I'm always a little nervous, but the thrill of competing outweighs the nerves."

Perry, who joined the Raiders this season, is ranked fourth in the shot put and 16th in the hammer throw.

Five Raider women qualified in the 10,000, and three of them are area products: Ashland's Seena Frantz (ranked 11th), Crater's Laurie Stoutenburgh (16th) and Phoenix's Anne Hagy (18th). Freshman Summer Cano leads the group and is ranked 10th.

In the 5,000, Crater's Anya Martinez (18th) joins Cano (fifth) and Frantz (17th).