Academy of Art earns first national championship in first time competing
Birmingham, Ala. -- In its first opportunity to even compete in the NCAA Division II postseason, Academy of Art is the downright best team in the country. Both individual and team efforts were needed, but the Urban Knights got contributions across the board to reach that ultimate goal: a national championship.
Put into an amazingly strong position after senior Vashti Thomas, Friday's long jump champion, won the 200m dash outright and placed fourth in the triple jump, the Urban Knights held a 12-point lead heading into the final event: the 4x400m relay. They placed third to earn five more points, but had already sealed the championship going in.
The day's events began on the men's side with redshirt freshman Johnny Carter being crowned the NCAA Division II jumps champion after his incredible 52-1 (15.87m) mark in his second attempt. Just like the long jump the previous afternoon, Carter led the 17-person field after his opening 51-5.75 (15.69m) distance, but on his second attempt, the title was won.
"My focus was just to relax, God has it all under control," Carter said. "He has truly blessed me to be here. I trusted Him on each jump and I came out victorious! It was unbelievable! I didn't know if I was dreaming or not. I'm so blessed to come out on top. God favors me!"
Carter offered one more attempt of 51-5.5 (15.68m) in Round 4 and coasted to his new title as the national champion in both the long jump and triple jump. All three of his marks on Saturday were farther than the 51-3 distance which had led NCAA DII all year.
"Also the women's basketball team helped with my confidence today," Carter said. "My goal was to represent the school as best as I could and I believe we as a team did it. Coaches and all!"
The day continued on with the women's 60m hurdles, where the Urban Knights made up half of the field in the finals. When the dust settled, all four Knights gained points towards the team score, led by Thomas in second place (8.16) and Briana Stewart in third (8.34). Julian Purvis took fifth place, while Dinesha Bean was in seventh to pick up two points.
Academy of Art then moved to cement itself among the premier jumping programs in the country in the women's triple jump. Thomas was sitting in third place after her second-round jump of 41-0.5, but dropped off the podium in the third round. She offered one more jump in the fifth round, but settled for fourth place and five important points to add to the Knights' total. Thomas was at it again in the 60 meter dash, doing her best impression of a gymnast in the Olympics doing the all-around. Her time of 7.54 was good enough for two more points that brought the Knights within spitting distance of GVSU, who was ahead after nine events by a score of 34.00-32.00.
In the next event for the women's team, the Urban Knights turned to their first All-American, as senior Jenny Bergren toed the line for the women's mile. She whipped around the track, and in an event indicative of what was to come, finished third overall by posting the fastest mark in Art U history (4:50.03), edging the entrant from Grand Valley by half of a second and pushing them off the podium in fourth place. The Knights picked up a point, but were still behind 39.00-38.00 after ten events, with only seven to go.
Neither team had anyone competing or earning points in the women's 400m or the high jump, but GVSU gained two points in the women's 800m. The Knights got that back and more when Thomas took the field in the 200m dash. After winning her heat, Thomas capped off the race with a photo finish, edging Danielle Williams (Johnson C. Smith) by 0.002 seconds to take first place and push the Knights into the top spot in the standings for the first time that day, leading GVSU 48.00-41.00 with four events left to score. Her mark of 23.43 (23.428 actual) was the best in program history.
There was a good chance Grand Valley could retake the lead in the women's 3000m, sending three runners to the final field while the Knights were sitting on the sidelines. But the Lakers were shut out of the distance event, placing none in the top eight. After the triple jump finished, the Knights had the championship all but sealed up, leading by 12.00 points with only two events left to score. One of those was the pole vault, which GVSU had already placed out of, and the other was the 4x400m, which the Knights went into needing only to finish the race to take home the title.
They did more than that, however, as the fearsome foursome of Briana Stewart, Chantel King, Keanna Moody and Dinesha Bean barreled around the track and finished in third place with a time of 3:43.48, the second-best mark in program history. The finish gave the Knights 59.00 points, and with the Lakers falling out of the standings, the next best team was PacWest rival Grand Canyon, who finished with 45.00 points, followed by Lincoln (Mo.) with 44.00 points.