Erika Hurd calls this season, her junior year at Cincinnati, the longest of her track and field career.
It's a career that flourished in high school, where Hurd won six high jump state championships between indoor and outdoor track at Manchester Valley. She graduated in 2012 and joined Cincinnati, where she became one of the Bearcats' top jumpers. And this year has been her best.
From qualifying for the NCAA Indoor championships and earning second-team all-America honors, to placing fifth at the USA Indoor Championships as the lone college participant, to clearing 6 feet, 0.5 inches this spring as one of the county's top heights, Hurd is continuing to reach her goals.And now another one -- she's headed to Eugene, Oregon, to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field championships next week.
A long season, perhaps, because of constantly aiming high. But a successful one nonetheless.
"It's been hard, but it's been the best season that I've ever I had in my life," said Hurd, who will be in the high jump June 13 at Hayward Field. "I didn't really have the goal of making it to nationals in indoors ... usually athletes don't peak until the end of the season. But just do be doing it and going to Oregon, that's been a dream of mine. Just to go to that state, let alone the best track meet for collegiate athlete that there is."
She's the second high jumper in Bearcats history to qualify compete at nationals, which gives her two big-time NCAA meets in the same season a year after earning seven first-place finishes as a sophomore.
Hurd, who stands 5-7, said she sought to reach 5-10 and 5-11 this year, and did so throughout most of the season. She surpassed 5-10.5 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round meet last Saturday in Florida, which earned her a ninth-place finish and a trip to Oregon.
Succeeding at nationals may very well pale in comparison to what she had to go through at the prelim meet, Hurd said.
"It's just so scary and so cutthroat," Hurd said. "You have to jump well that day. I saw girls who were some of the best in the country just not have a good day, and then that's it, they're not going to nationals. I told myself, 'Wow, that cannot be me.' "
And it wasn't.
She didn't set an outdoor personal record, and her top jump at Cincinnati remains 6-1.25 (set during indoor season), but Hurd is one of the Bearcats' all-time greats with another season remaining in her college career.
Renee Hein owns the school record at 6-1.5, set in 2006. Hurd is close -- only she and Hein have eclipsed 6 feet in Cincy history.
But those goals will come with more work and dedication.
"That was one of my goals that I wrote down on my sheet before the year, was to be jumping 6 feet," Hurd said. "If I wasn't doing that then I'd be pretty disappointed. For nationals at this go-round, I'm not scared and I'm not nervous, at all.
"Right now I'm fine. I have no pressure on myself. I feel golden right now."
This article was written by Pat Stoetzer from Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.