Day 1 of the Division II Indoor Track and Field national title meet in Pittsburg, Kansas, was a day of firsts. Some previously unknown contenders claimed surprise championships in individual events.
Before this weekend, Chadron State of Chadron, Nebraska, hadn’t won a single event at the Division II track and field championships. But on Friday, the team made school history with the first ever title in a women’s event.
This is thanks to Stachia Reuwsaat. Reuwsaat won the women’s long jump with a leap of 6.21 meters. Between the men’s and the women’s teams, the Eagles sent nine athletes to the national title meet. Chadron State tied its highest total of national qualifiers this year with eight.
Reuwsaat said the presence of so many of her teammates made it easier for her to succeed.
“They were so excited,” Reuwsaat said. “It’s been such a blessing because this is the biggest team we have brought in a long time and it’s so awesome to see everybody here. It makes it so much better that they’re there and they’re supporting us.”
In sixth position was one of the competition’s best athletes, Stacia Slack of New Mexico Highlands. Slack won the women’s pentathlon last year and will compete in the 2016 pentathlon on Saturday. Slack finished 12th in the long jump last year.
Reuwsaat, who finished sixth in the long jump last year, said Chadron State is making a statement with its success on Day 1.
“I think you’re going to be surprised by Chadron in the next couple of years,” Reuwsaat said. “We’ve got a lot of talent and all of our kids work really hard.”
The other surprise of the day came at the hands of Natalie O’Keefe, the Southwest Baptist sophomore who took home the title in the women’s high jump. Her height of 1.75m was enough for the win, but she said she wanted to set her personal record, which would have been 1.76m.
“I really wanted to [set my personal record] today and I missed it by a centimeter,” O’Keefe said. “But I was still happy with it.”
Like Chadron State, Southwest Baptist had also never won a women’s title in indoor track and field. Unlike Reuwsaat, O’Keefe, a junior, did not even qualify for the national meet in the high jump last season.
O’Keefe said the reason for her success lied in the guidance from her coach, Marshall O’Brien. O’Brien left the Southwest Baptist program last season after working with O’Keefe during her freshman year. In his first year back, O’Keefe did enough to be the best in the nation.
Although the team standings are far from figured out, Chadron State currently stands in fifth in the team standings. Six of the 17 events at the championships have been scored, and at the top of the standings is Hillsdale with 25 points. Hillsdale’s relay team ended Friday with a win in the women’s distance medley. Hillsdale also added points with third- and fourth-place finishes in the 5000-meter run.
Behind Hillsdale with 18 points is Grand Valley State. The Lakers’ Jaime Roberts won the women’s pole vault, which went the distance. In the last six years, only two marks have exceeded the 4.11 meters with which Roberts claimed the win.
Roberts said the competitive finish to the pole vault motivated her to push it to the next level.
“It kind of brings it up a level and makes you focus a little bit more when ten girls are in with 12.10 [meters] and above so it helps you focus a little bit more,” Roberts said.
The only championship record to be broken came in the weight throw. And it wasn’t just broken; it was smashed.
Winona State’s Kaitlyn Long heaved a throw of 22.70 meters, which broke the Division II national title meet record. The previous record was 21.05, set in 2013 by Grand Valley State’s Sam Lockhart.
The throw was Long’s personal record. She also said it was the longest throw she had ever heaved, in a competition or in practice.
On Saturday, the women’s finals in track events will be decided. Hillsdale carries a distinct edge with its ability in distance races, but Grand Valley State has a reputation for performing well in track events. Grand Valley State last won the competition in 2012, while Hillsdale is looking to win its first title in school history.