Freshman ends year with tie for 21st in championship

By Frank Gogola

Track and field freshman Claudette Day could have been a big fish in a little pond at the IHSA track and field meet in May.

Instead, Day became the second Huskie in program history to qualify for nationals and then capped off her freshman campaign at the NCAA National Championships on Saturday in Eugene, Ore., finishing tied for 21st in the high jump.

Day began playing with the idea of graduating high school early following her junior season, but after talking things over with her parents and her summer coach and figuring out graduation requirements, entering college early became a reality.

She graduated from Belleville West High School, where she was a three-time state qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles and long jump, in December and enrolled at NIU in January. In her first season she competed in seven different indoor events and 10 different outdoor events.

“When you ask a high school student to graduate, come to college and compete immediately, it is not easy,” said head coach Connie Teaberry. “Most [high school students] come in the fall and have time to make adjustments with academics and figuring out [their] schedule and managing [themselves]. That she could progress this much this quickly, it’s pretty impressive.”

Although Day arrived in DeKalb as a little fish in a big pond, she continued to grow throughout the season, rewriting the NIU record books along the way.

Day, one of only two freshmen among the 24 national qualifiers, closed out her record-setting season with a 21st-place finish in the high jump at the NCAA National Championships. She was unable to clear the bar and missed on all three of her attempts.

“[On] my first jump, my approach was smooth,” Day said. “But the way I took my last two steps I just didn’t get up enough to clear the bar.

“[On] my second jump, my approach was smooth. My last two steps, I did them. I landed my plant foot but just didn’t get up enough.

“[On] my third jump, I heard my name announced and knew everyone was looking. I just jumped and did what I was supposed to do. I actually executed, but I somehow didn’t make it over.”

While Day would have liked to complete the jump and advanced on, she said when she came to NIU in January she wasn’t sure if she would be able to make it to nationals in her first season but knew any chance she did have would require the utmost hard work and dedication.

“With Claudette, it’s basically the goals that she sets,” Teaberry said. “If she doesn’t set limits on herself, she will be able to accomplish anything. At the Division I level, the mental state is half the battle, and she has that part down. She was a little nervous, but next year she won’t have that problem.

“It’s a learning process, and if she learns from her mistakes and corrects them, then the sky’s the limit for her.”

With one season now under her belt, Day is already making plans for a return trip to the national tournament. While she still has yet to officially land her first jump at nationals, she expects to land more than one next season.

“I’ve learned that you have to compete like every day is your last,” Day said. “I know I will be back there next year. Next year it will be, ‘How bad do I want to be on that podium?’ To get on that podium I have to execute all the time. I can’t mess up. I have to execute every time.”