Led by a core group of returners and bolstered by young talent, the Elon University women’s track and field team completed its first season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association with a first place finish in the CAA Outdoor Championships.
Elon finished with a total of 150 points, beating out host College of William & Mary, which finished with 134.5 points. The victory marks the Phoenix’s first championship title in any sport as a member of the CAA.
Although the track and field team joined the CAA at the beginning of the season, the championship was its first exposure to many opponents within the conference.
“It’s a little different from the other sports because we may see a few of the CAA teams at a couple meets here and there,” said head coach Mark Elliston.
Elon won six events at the CAA Outdoor Championships. Sophomore distance runner Kimberly Johansen won the 800-meter and 1,500-meter runs.
She set a new conference record in the 1,500-meter race with a time of 4:22.82 and set a new school record in the 800-meter event with a time of 2:10.42. These achievements helped her earn the CAA’s Most Outstanding Track Athlete of the Meet award.
In her first competition back after a suspension for a violation of team rules, junior hurdler Jen Esposito prevailed in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 59.08. Esposito also set a school record and personal best in the preliminary race with a time of 58.96.
Freshman discus thrower Bryanna Hames set a new school record with a winning throw of 158-1 while junior distance runner Tereza Novotna won the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 10:22.22, a personal best and the second fastest time in CAA history.
Freshman Emily Dixon emerged victorious in the heptathlon with 4,921 points, setting multiple school records and winning three multi-event titles.
Junior sprinter Simone Jackson took home the title in the 200-meter dash with a time of 25.10.
Jackson, a junior from Ellicott City, Maryland, has improved every season of her college career. After setting a school record in the 100-meter dash last season, she topped her own mark with a 12.07 sprint at the Aggie Invitational in Greensboro this April.
“Simone brings a lot to the team, and she has from the moment she walked on campus her freshman year,” Elliston said. “She’s been through a lot but she’s never given up.”
Jackson struggled when she arrived at Elon and felt disappointed with her performances.
Many of the bigger schools that initially recruited her stopped after she tore her ACL her junior year of high school. With a 12.18 personal best under her belt from high school, Jackson struggled to find her pace in her freshman campaign at Elon. Her best finish as a freshman was 12.64 at the Liberty Collegiate Invitational.
“After my freshman year, I was really disappointed,” Jackson said. “From there, I just was like, ‘OK, I need to set my goals [and] figure out what I need to do.’”
As a sophomore, though, Jackson hit her stride.
“First day of practice, I said to coach, ‘This year I’m going to break the school record in the 100-meter dash,’” Jackson said.
Her vision became a reality at the Liberty Collegiate Invitational. She posted a 12.18, tying her personal best and surpassing the previous record of 12.29 set by Dana Cataldo in 2011.
Aside from individual events, Jackson also competed in the 4x100-meter relay team, which also featured junior sprinters Jennifer Pash, Bria Turner and Sydney Griffin. The group posted a 46.90 in the event this year at the CAA Championships.
Jackson has hope for the future of the track and field program. Many of her younger teammates have wasted no time in establishing a presence during competitions.
“The younger girls, they bring a lot of grit, which I think is something you really need as a Division I track athlete,” she said. “They’re coming in confident. They’re coming in strong. And they’re coming in with a hard work ethic.”
Elon hopes to send a few athletes to the NCAA Preliminary round, which takes place May 28-30. The top 48 athletes will be accepted into the preliminary round for each individual event. The athletes have two more chances to qualify — at the Duke Twilight today and tomorrow at Duke University and May 16-17 at the Wolfpack Last Chance meet at North Carolina State University. With just five athletes graduating this year, the Phoenix has promise to continue excelling as a team in the upcoming years.