BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Arkansas -- in its quest to repeat as National Champions -- came out in a close second place after Day 1 at the DI Women’s Track and Field Championships. The Georgia Bulldogs, behind an historic performance, find themselves atop the standings heading into Day 2.
Georgia’s Kendall Williams came into the pentathlon prepared to break her own records. It would be the first of her triple duties on the weekend, as she would compete in jump events over the next two days. She knew that in order for No. 3 UGA to have a shot at the national title, she needed a strong performance to start off the competition.
“I knew I had to start off really, really strong,” Williams said. “She’s [Kansas State's Akela Jones] a strong hurdler. I knew I couldn’t relax because she could make up those points, she’s just so good in every event. It was about staying focused on myself and my numbers.”
She did just that.
Williams came out and broke her own record in the hurdles with a time of 8.09. The event did not start well for KSU’s senior from Barbados, however. Jones tripped herself up over the last hurdle. She put herself in an early deep hole trailing Williams by 569 points with four events remaining.
“I really picked myself up after the hurdles and I said, ‘Akela you have to do this, you have to show the world you are strong and deep inside,” Jones said. “That’s one of those moments where you fall, you have so many thoughts in a split second. Do you get up? Do you stay down? Is something broken? Then I was like, ‘oh, I’m fine, so let’s get back up and go.”
That made the next four hours all that more incredible.
The field in the pentathlon was of historic proportions. Seemingly every time Williams participated, records shattered. School and conference record holders filled the lineup. In order to come out of this field a winner, a record-setting day was seemingly almost necessary.
“There are a lot of competitors in the field that are really good,” Jones said.”I can’t count anyone out, this field is phenomenal. This field is packed, this is probably the best field NCAA has ever had in history. Everybody out there is the best.”
Williams looked poised and ready to break her own NCAA pentathlon record as she came out strong in the high jump. She would break her meet record that she set last year, clearing 1.86 meters, .03 better than her 2015 mark.
The problem was so did Jones.
It was absolutely remarkable, a feat that may not be seen any time soon. Jones didn’t simply clear heights, she cruised through them with ease, not missing a single jump in her first nine attempts, breaking Williams new record of 1.86 meters and continuing to advance. 1.89. 1.93. 1.95. 1.98. She had the meet and NCAA record under her belt and by her last jump, she was one centimeter away from a world record.
“The high jump was incredible to watch,” Williams said of her competitor. “I knew that would be a lot of points, so I knew I would have to put the shot put together … finally!”
After clearing 1.98 meters in one try, Jones cupped her hands over her face and showed some emotion for the first time in the event.
“I was quite surprised that I made it on the first attempt,” Jones said of her historic jump. “It was amazing to me. The same reaction the crowd had is what I felt inside. I was very excited.”
Jones would not relent. Her comeback continued as she won the shot put -- although Williams finished a close second in one of her finest shot put outings in her outstanding career -- and then in another dominating performance, first tied and then set the new NCAA long jump record.
“I didn’t know it was going to go as well as it did,” Jones said of her record-setting long jump. “I was a little tired. I took to the basics, listened to my coach. I trust him a lot. A phenomenal mark.”
Despite falling in the hurdles, despite it seeming nearly impossible for Jones to be relevant on the day after early disaster, she found herself in third place trailing by a mere 263 points. More surprisingly, Kendall Williams -- despite suddenly being overshadowed by every record Jones was setting -- was still on pace to break her own NCAA pentathlon total points record. It all came down to four laps.
The comeback would end there, however. Jones’ body had enough and she pulled herself from the 800.
“I just felt like I had enough for the day,” Jones said. “I had to listen to my body, I felt it was time to close it down. After falling, after getting back up, it was too much emotion.
“It was like a love and hate day. I had a good day in some events, and was disappointed in others, but I felt I lifted myself up and showed I can be a true champion.”
Williams, however, would not have her day end there. She would once again make history. For the third consecutive season, Williams broke her own collegiate pentathlon total points record, finishing first in the 800 and totaling 4703 points. She became the first NCAA athlete to eclipse the 4700 point mark and even more remarkably, just the fourth American to achieve such a feat.
“I put up some really good numbers that I’ve been waiting to see all season, so it’s so good that we’re finally here. I’m so happy with the point total. It was all about competing hard, maximizing the number of points for my team, because we are trying to take home the national title this year.”
The other big matchup of the day was the 5000 meters, the long awaited rematch of Notre Dame’s senior Molly Seidel versus Boise State’s freshman sensation Allie Ostrander in a rematch of the DI Cross Country Championship.
Seidel would rise victorious in a dominating performance that she lead from start to finish, however, she defeated Michigan sophomore Erin Finn by a time of 15:15.204 to 15:23.153. Ostrander pulled herself from the race with injury in the 15th lap, unable to finish.