BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The second day of the DII women’s track and field championships concluded in one of the tightest races in the history of the event. Central Missouri would leave as champions in an exciting and loud finish.
Heading into the day's action, Grand Valley State led all competitors with 26 points while No. 6 Hillsdale snuck into the No. 2 slot with 18 points. No. 2 Central Missouri and No. 1 New Mexico Highlands were right behind them with 16 and 10 points, respectively. They would remain in a tight contest right until the very end.
“Our team has been through an emotional roller coaster the past two weeks, with what happened at conference and then all of a sudden we come out No. 1. We didn’t handle it very well yesterday,” NMHU coach Bob DeVries explained about their fourth place finish in Day 1."A couple of girls we expected to get into the finals didn’t. But today has started out well, Salcia [Slack] already has two pentathlon PRs already and she’s a good shot putter so we hope to make up some ground here. Yesterday was a rough day for us. I felt bad for Shanice [McPherson], she didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate the way should have because as a team we underperformed. I’m very proud of what she did.”
“We had some good things,” Central Missouri coach Kip Janvrin said of his team’s Day 1 performance.
“The long jump, we got a fourth place in there and I was happy with that. We had a couple of girls that we were hoping would get to the finals and didn’t, and that was a little disappointing because they both ran fairly well. Obviously Zoe Sharplin in the pentathlon today got hurt, and that was frustrating and unfortunate with her being a senior. We are really excited with what Heavin Warner yesterday to get second in the weight throw after leading for five rounds. And we had a pole vaulter get sixth place as well. It was a good first day, but we got our big events in the high jump and triple jump coming up so we got to do well in those.”
Those big events would eventually seal the deal for the Jennies.
The day started with NMHU’s Slack bouncing back and completely dominating in the women’s opening event. She cruised to victory in the pentathlon, changing the tempo for the day. Sitting in fifth place with three of the five events left to go, Slack dominated the shot put first, then the long jump (redeeming her shaky start Friday) and finally pulled away victorious by a wide margin in the 800.
Back and forth the women’s teams would go all day with NMHU holding a slim margin for most of the day. The clock struck four and the fireworks began.
A glitch in the schedule, accidentally flipping the men’s triple jump with the women’s long jump, caught Central Missouri off guard to start the day. The No. 1-seeded jumper in both the triple jump and high jump was the Jennies' Erika Kinsey. Both events wound up running at the same time.
“Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, those events are at the same time,” Janvrin explained. “That was frustrating. Had I known that I may have put her in pentathlon. That is going to dictate things a little bit. We’re hoping she can still jump well in both of those events today.”
Back and forth Kinsey would go. Circling around Kinsey and the rest of the women jumpers, history was being made. Hillsdale would make a late evening push behind a record-setting performance by not one, but two runners.
Emily Oren (9:16) and Kristina Galat (9:20) finished first and second in the 3000 meter, shattering the 30-year-old record of 9:30.34. The wins boosted Hillsdale briefly into first place by a five-point margin.
While Kinsey was jumping, Slack took to the track in the women’s final track event of the championship with her 4x400 team to face off against Hillsdale. Hillsdale’s four went in the first heat.
Junior Corinne Zehner set the pace while in the background Central Missouri’s Kinsey cleared yet another bar. Fiona Shea would maintain Hillsdale’s lead, but a bobbled baton exchange dropped the Chargers into second. They would fall into third place in their heat.
Freshman Kristen Montano had a rough go to start things off for NMHU in the second heat, but Slack then took the baton. By the time she handed it off, there was a huge gap. NMHU seemed on their way to the championship.
A collision on the second-to-last lap between Mary and NMHU sent Cassandra Jones of UM off the track and Stefania Gyamfi stumbling into last place. The Cowgirls couldn’t recover. They finished with a worst time than Hillsdale.
It was up to Kinsey. The nation’s best triple jumper just wrapped up the win. They had to put the award ceremony on hold because she had some unfinished business. She egged the crowd on, clapping her hands and they responded. With the crowd cheering loudly, Kinsey took off set to clear the bar. She skimmed the top and the bar came crumbling down.
She had one attempt left. She began clapping over her head. The fans and fellow competitors began clapping along. Stomping began in the bleachers, and the CrossPlex was rocking. Kinsey took off towards the pole and cleared it. She immediately bounced upright, fist pumped and screamed in elation. The Jennies were the 2015 Women’s Indoor Track and Field National Champions.
“I was so nervous,” Kinsey said. “I was saying is it my turn here? Luckily I had a teammate [Madison Smith] in high jump, she kept telling me what height we were at. I was so nervous, that I realized I just had to do it. I didn’t have time to think negative thoughts. I realized now was my time, and I had to do it.
“I long jumped yesterday. I was ranked sixth, when you're not supposed to win it’s more relaxed. Of course I want to win, but that pressure isn’t there. I was so nervous because usually I like to do the vertical jumps before the horizontal. I don’t know what I did, but I’m so happy.”
Central Missouri was crowned national champions for the first time in school history. Due to the closeness of the race and points spread out amongst the top teams, they rose victorious with the lowest point total in the history of the event. Their 47 points held off runner ups Hillsdale (40) and third place NMHU and Ashland who tied with 37 points.