Courtesy James Hoeck | The Daily Illini
DeKALB — The women’s track and field team claimed a pair of Mid-American Conference titles and broke a pair of school records during the MAC Outdoor Championships Thursday through Saturday in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Sophomore Skylynn Blue earned the crown in the 200-meter dash to become the third Huskie to win the event. She ran a personal-fastest time of 23.46 seconds to edge Eastern Michigan University junior Mair Edwards by four hundredths of a second.
“Sky (Blue) has been eyeing that 200 MAC Championships for a while now,” said director of track and field Connie Teaberry in an NIU Athletics news release Saturday. “That has been her goal, she wanted to be a MAC Champion and for her to go out and execute the way she did, fearlessly, it ended in a favorable time that will probably get her to the NCAA preliminary and, ultimately, put the points on the board with a MAC Championship.”
NIU’s 4×400-meter relay team claimed the second title for the Huskies. The quartet of freshman Roshell Rowe, senior Kaitlyn Lewis, sophomore Kennedy Crawford and junior Jahnetta Jones ran an event-best time of 3:40.95. The unit came ahead of runner-up Central Michigan University by about two-hundredths of a second. This is NIU’s first victory in the event since 2015 and second all-time.
“We had three girls (in the relay) that didn’t reach the finals in the open events, along with Jahnetta (Jones) in the 400, so we came in with fresh legs,” Teaberry said. “That was their goal, since they didn’t make it in the open events, they wanted to get a gold medal (in the relay) and that is what they went out and did. They executed perfectly, they worked hard from beginning to end and I am extremely proud of them.”
Ramsey racks up points on opening day
The first day of championship competition Thursday included three top-five finishes for senior Taylor Ramsey. The St. Louis native earned fourth place in the javelin with a throw of 36.46 meters. The throw’s distance marked a season-best for Ramsey.
“Taylor (Ramsey) did a great job for us today,” Teaberry said Thursday in an NIU Athletics news release. “She was in great shape and wanted to do something big to finish her four seasons and to be able to score (in the javelin) and move up from where she finished last year, was a great accomplishment.”
She also competed in the first two events of the heptathlon, the 100-meter hurdles and the high jump, before sustaining an injury. Ramsey posted a time of 14.65 seconds to place fourth in the 100-meter hurdles. Her best performance in the high jump was 1.58 meters.
Blue and Watkins ace the prelims
Sophomores Skylynn Blue and Malia Watkins advanced to Saturday’s finals round of the 200-meter dash after qualifying performances in the preliminaries Friday. Blue claimed first place with a time of 23.97 seconds. Watkins finished nearly nine-hundredths of a second later to take sixth place at 24.82 seconds.
“Skylynn (Blue) and Malia (Watkins) knew what (Friday) was all about, doing what they had to do to move on to the next round and live to fight another day,” Teaberry said. “They both did that and put themselves in position for the (200) final on Saturday and they will both turn around and try to do that again in the 100 (meter dash) on Friday.”
The final run to the finish line
A trio of Huskie seniors ran their last race in NIU colors Thursday. Sara Atkins ran a time of 38:02.75 and Kaitlin Miller clocked in at 38:08.59 in the 10,000-meter run. Atkins’ time earned her a 21st place finish in the event with Miller right behind in 22nd place. Hannah Ricci came in 26th place after running 38:49.72.
Thursday’s race was the first of its kind for Miller and Ricci and the second for Atkins. Miller and Ricci returned from competition in Kalamazoo in time to attend their graduation ceremony Saturday in DeKalb. Atkins is still pursuing her master’s degree, but has run out of athletic eligibility.
Smith leaps through school records
Senior Jazmyn Smith made an impression Friday by setting an NIU record in the long jump. She recorded a jump of 6.15 meters, breaking her previous school record of 6.08 meters from the Tom Jones Memorial Invite on April 15.
“Jazmyn (Smith) was ecstatic,” Teaberry said Friday in an NIU Athletics news release. “Her last jump was actually a protest jump, which made it even more dramatic. They called it a foul, but I didn’t think it was a foul, so I went to the games committee and asked them to review it. It came back that it was a fair jump, and that mark should also put her in position to go to the preliminary round of the NCAAs.”
Smith’s jump tied University of Akron junior Jacqueline Pokuaah for the best mark of the day. Pokuaah earned the tiebreaker and the Mid-American Conference title after having a better second-longest jump than Smith. Pokuaah’s second-best measured 6.04 meters while Smith’s was 6.02 meters.
Graduate student Kenyae Majors rounded out the top three in the long jump. She recorded a season-best jump of 5.95 meters on her third attempt. Smith’s and Majors’ performances accounted for 14 of NIU’s team points.
Huskies heading to another finals round
Blue and Watkins added on to their early success in the competition after qualifying for the finals of the 100-meter dash. Blue championed the preliminaries with the fastest time of 11.62 seconds. Watkins filled in the third place spot after trailing Blue by two-hundredths of a second.
“Skylynn (Blue) and Malia (Watkins) have been working hard all year, they have their sights set on MAC Championships and the (NCAA) first round,” said Teaberry. “In our team meeting (Thursday) night we talked about putting ourselves in position for finals and to not press, we didn’t need anything special, just to do what they have done all year.”
Sophomore Scout Regular and Jahnetta Jones each moved into the finals of their respective events. Regular staked her claim on third place after finishing the 100-meter hurdles preliminaries in 14.01 seconds. Jones clocked in at 55.24 seconds, a season-best, in the 400-meter dash in the preliminaries. She was the event runner-up behind Miami University-Ohio senior Faith Baxter, who she trailed by four hundredths of a second.
Huskies take home a pair of titles
Blue came out on top in the 200-meter dash with a personal-best time of 23.46 seconds. She is the first Huskie to win that event since Kedisha Dallas in 2016. Blue outran runner-up EMU’s Edwards by nearly four-hundredths of a second as the latter clocked in at 23.87 seconds. Blue’s teammate Watkins claimed third place with a time of 23.88 seconds.
The Huskies’ 4×400-meter relay team gave NIU its second MAC title of the event. Rowe ran as the lead, Lewis and Crawford assumed the middle legs and Jones served as the anchor. Their run lasted 3:40.95 to beat out runners-up CMU by about two-hundredths of a second. The resulting finish marks the second time NIU has won the event at the MAC Championships.
Down goes another school record
Jones broke an NIU record for the fastest time in the 400-meter dash during her runner-up finish in the event. She remained neck-and-neck with EMU’s Edwards for the duration of the race as both sprinters recorded a time of 54.24 seconds. Edwards edged out Jones when times were examined into thousandths of a second as the former had the latter beat by three thousandths.
“(Jones) has worked tirelessly from August until this point and is very deserving of that championship, but we will take second and the school record because this is a very legit school record,” Teaberry said. “I’m proud of her and her efforts and, with me being a new (event) coach for her (this year), her believing in my process to get her here.”
NIU earns flurry of top-five finishes
Blue and Watkins also competed in the finals of the 100-meter dash. Watkins earned her second third-place finish Saturday after running 11.61 seconds. Blue finished directly behind in fourth place at 11.64 seconds. The two also served as the first two legs of NIU’s 4×100-meter relay team alongside Smith and Regular. The quartet finished in third place with a time of 45.93 seconds.
Regular competed on her own in the 100-meter hurdles. She ran a time of 13.64 seconds, a season-best, to finish second behind the title winner, Kent State University fifth-year Benja Duff.
Seniors Katrina Small and Diamond Riley had personal-best performances in the triple jump event. Small came in third place with a mark of 12.72 meters on her fourth attempt. Riley finished narrowly behind Small with a leap measuring 12.71 meters to take fourth place.
Senior Dymier Jeffery rounded out NIU performances Saturday with a fifth place finish in the high jump. Her jump of 1.65 meters matched her best of the season.
“Just about every girl today (broke a personal record), had a season’s best or broke a school record, so you can’t ask for much more than that from a team,” Teaberry said. “They gave us everything that they had.”
On to the NCAAs
NIU will have their next outing at the NCAA West Preliminary on May 26-28. Competition will be held at John McDonnell Field at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.