When it comes to firsts, there can be only one, and Bryanna Hames — who's equipped to fulfill singular distinctions — has created that kind of landmark occurrence for the Elon women's track and field team.
She's the one, the first from the 16-year-old program to reach the NCAA outdoor championships. She participates Saturday in the discus, which is among the meet's concluding events at Oregon's historic Hayward Field.
It's a milestone moment, one that will last less than two seconds in terms of actual movement in the throwing circle, and who better to carry Elon's flag onto the sport's biggest college stage than Hames, a junior from Charlotte.
She's the recruit who decided against power-conference schools with the objective of blazing a pioneering trail like this for the Phoenix, an ambition that quietly includes a T-shirt reading "Eugene in '17," a prophetic gift last summer from Geoff Emerson, her Myers Park High School throwing coach, that incorporates the name of the championship city.
A positive force forever upbeat and engaging, continually striving to improve her considerable performances and unlock the next achievement, she's the one.
"When I looked at Miami and Carolina and Oregon, those schools, they weren't fits for me," Hames said. "I said, 'I want to come to this school and leave a mark here, make a legacy here.' That's huge for me. I wanted this school to be on the map for track and field. So to make it this far and to be the first, it's a big deal."
Hames has earned a spot among the best of the best in the discus. Twenty-four women, the 12 highest finishers from the NCAA's two regional sites, comprise the championship field. Placing among the top 16 Saturday will produce All-American honors.
She's no stranger to delivering on golden opportunities, having won the New Balance Outdoor Nationals three years ago, an impactful victory that served to underscore her superb junior career.
Two weeks ago in Lexington, Kentucky, Hames entered the NCAA East Preliminaries ranked No. 22 in the region and proceeded to unleash a heave of 174 feet, 6 inches, a distance that surpassed her own Elon record, vaulted her into 11th position and ultimately qualified her for the championship meet.
"She was on the big stage there in the East Region," Elon coach Mark Elliston said. "She was going up against Penn State, Florida, Alabama, Florida State and she didn't get intimidated. She stepped in there and she did what she needed to do.
"Some big-time throwers were at that meet and they fell down around her. They didn't execute. They folded, maybe, to the pressure. She was able to keep it together and she found that throw."
That day at the NCAA preliminaries, her most recent competition, marked the fourth time this season Hames cranked out a personal best. When that discus left her hand, rather than immediately nit-picking her technique as she often does, she instead suspected a sizeable distance might be in the works.
"I knew going into Kentucky I needed to throw something big if I was going to make it out," she said. "You've got to live for the big moments and that's what I really, really enjoy, competing in the very big moments."
The meaning that adorns this experience has been everywhere to see and touch and soak in for the 21-year-old Hames and Elon's group that departed Tuesday and made the cross-country trip to Oregon for the championship meet.
Elliston, who has shepherded the program since 2006 and built the Phoenix into a repeat conference champion in the Colonial Athletic Association, was on the phone with a certain reporter a couple of days ago when Carl Lewis, the iconic sprinter, happened by and greeted him.
Signs around Eugene proudly promote its "TrackTown, USA" nickname. At Hayward Field, one area of the complex contains flags recognizing each school that has an athlete participating in the championships.
"You see that Elon Phoenix flag flying and it's special," Elliston said. "This is an amazing accomplishment for Bryanna. She just works so hard and she's such a leader on the team, she deserves this. You get here and this is the Mecca of track and field. It's really neat."
The discus event will present Hames with the latest and most significant version of what she likes to call "how good can you be today?" That's what a meet, especially one framed by lifelong dreams, hinges on in the end, she said, when training and preparation collides with stress and execution.
"We're here and it's the top 24 in the country and we'll see," Hames said. "It's like, 'OK, who's going to put their big-girl pants on and make it happen? Really, that's what it comes down to, because anything can happen."
Maybe something magical will.
She has achieved new heights under the watch of assistant coach Laura Igaune, who came on board in October and oversees Elon's throwers. A palpable trust exists with their relationship, Elliston said. Hames said she's certain Igaune will have her cues and technical details sharpened, ready to produce her best in those 1.6 seconds during which she hurls the discus.
There's also this: Coming off her personal record in the NCAA preliminaries, the heave that landed her in today's national championship company, Hames, while admittedly operating on nervous excitement, said she feels as if her peak could be close, perhaps just beneath the surface.
"I have thrown farther in practice, so I'm expecting the really big one to come and I'm looking forward to that," she said. "It comes down to how bad do you want it, and I want it."
This article is written by Adam Smith from Times-News, Burlington, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.