BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --  The New Mexico Highland Cowgirls came into the Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships as the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history. If there was any doubt that they deserved the ranking, they put them to rest after their first event of the competition.

“It got us pumped and ready to come here,” Shanice McPherson said. “It kind of put us on the map. A little school from Las Vegas, New Mexico, has come here. We come in and we’re fighting to make sure that our mark is left here.”

Friday’s long jump was a highly anticipated event. The Cowgirls’ Salcia Slack and Shanice McPherson squared off against Central Missouri’s freshman sensation Erika Kinsey. It wasn’t merely the No. 1-ranked school versus the No. 2-ranked school, it was an event that featured three of the elite long jumpers in the land on any level.

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Slack is fresh off of a RMAC championship where she won four events and finished second in two others. One of the events she finished second in was the long jump, where she fell short to Cowgirls teammate McPherson. Kinsey came into the event as the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association’s leader in the high and triple jump while being a top 10 long jumper in the nation. The tables were set for a fantastic battle.

Slack, one of the most gifted athletes in the nation, stumbled out of the gates. Slack fouled on her first two attempts. It would all be forgotten as McPherson would steal the show, setting a Division II Championship long jump record by nearly jumping 21 feet.

“I came here thinking that I wanted to defend my title again,” McPherson said of her tournament record. “The record wasn’t on my mind. The only thing was to defend my title. The record is a bonus.”

Freshman Nikia Squire from Queens (Charlotte) soared through the air to enter the final round in second place. Kinsey held her own, entering the final showdown in third place. Shakinah Brooks made a strong showing out of St. Augustine and Stachia Reuwsaat, a sophomore from Chadron State, rounded out the Top 5.

As the final eight contestants were trying to break the immaculate six-meter mark, McPherson, the No. 1 long jumper in DII and the fourth-ranked long jumper in across all NCAA divisions, was eclipsing it on every jump. Her first round was a 6.08 to a 6.09 to a 6.22, a mark that would fall just short of former NMHU standout Jillisa Grant’s meet record (6.26) set in 2012. It took McPherson all of one jump in the final round on her first jump to crush the record, landing at 6.38. She would then turn around while the long jump was still finishing and no less than 20 feet away, finish third in her 60-meter dash heat.

The record wasn’t on my mind. The only thing was to defend my title. The record is a bonus.
-- Shanice McPherson
"It is the best of both worlds. The pressure is more [than the confidence] sometimes. I won it last year and came in again seeded No. 1, so the pressure is on me because everybody wants to win. All I have to do is keep my composure, keep my head level and just do what I have to do and what Coach Johnson told me to do, and then execute.”

And execute she did.

Euphemia Edem, a senior from Tarleton State, entered the final round ranked sixth, would hit 6.05 and finished third. Kinsey would hit several 5.90s and max out at 6.05 as well. Brooks got stronger and stronger as the final round went on, hitting 6.03 and 6.09 but both jump fell way short of McPherson’s new record.

It was simply a remarkable start for both McPherson and the Cowgirls. The top three seeds in the championship are separated by only seven points. What better way to separate yourself from the competition than by setting a record right from the start?