Top 10 JUDolphins Moments of 2013-14: #3

Top 10 JUDolphins Moments of 2013-14: #3

Poised for another crown at the outdoor championships in mid-May, the Dolphins were tested to the limit in a dramatic 4x400. What resulted was the unveiling of a new level of resiliency by a special group of student-athletes.

Hoisting the Atlantic Sun Women’s Track & Field Championship trophy is nothing new for Jacksonville University. Entering 2013-14, the Dolphins had claimed the last eight indoor and the last eight outdoor titles, a streak dating back to 2006. True to form, the women of JU once again cruised to a ninth straight indoor title in late February, claiming a 34-point victory margin over runner-up Kennesaw State.

The Dolphins were poised for another crown at the outdoor championships in mid-May, but never before had they been tested to the limit. What resulted was not only a ninth straight title for JU, but the unveiling of a new level of resiliency by a special group of student-athletes.

“Our margins of victory in the past are not what you normally see in track and field conference championships. The teams and individuals in our conference get better each year and they are closing the gap. It was a new situation for us to have the meet so close,” said Director of Track & Field Ron Grigg, whose teams entered 2014 having won the last eight A-Sun outdoor championships by an average of 62 points.

“In retrospect it became good character assessment. The kids were very tired and to be able to go to the well one more time to get the victory is something that they will carry with them long after they graduate.”

Only once since the streak began in 2006 had any team been within 45 points of Jacksonville at the final podium. The 2014 title looked to be more of the same as the Dolphins built a 60-point lead in the early stages of day two. An injury to junior sprinter Shadaey Campbell during the 4x100 proved to be costly however, and sent a ripple effect through the team scoring.

Kennesaw State came roaring back, gaining 13 points in the 400 meter dash by claiming five of the top eight places. The Owls added on another 11 points in the 100 and 15 more in the 800. A 17-point advantage in the 200 meters then put Kennesaw State within striking distance.

Heading into the penultimate running event of the meet, Coach Grigg let senior distance specialist Svenja Meyer know where the standings stood.   

“The javelin and 5,000 meters were essentially going on at the same time,” Grigg recalled. “We could see that Kennesaw was going to score at least seven points in the javelin, so I let Svenja know as we walked to the 5K starting line that this meet was tied.”

Historically with the margin of victory the Dolphins have had, the 5,000 has been an optional event for JU runners. It was run more for personal gain than to solidify team points to secure a conference championship.  

“I told her the meet was going to get close when Shadaey went down,” said Grigg. “She was prepared to run. She knew at that point it was not an optional event, it was not for her own personal performance, it had strong team implications. Svenja came up big and ran well.”

The seven points in the javelin by Kennesaw State were a hopeful estimate. The Owls secured 11 in the event and took a four-point lead in the standings as the 5,000 got underway.

Less than two weeks earlier, Meyer graduated from JU with a 3.92 GPA in accounting and international business. Now, with a championship on the line, she approached the final A-Sun race in her career with the same confidence she had in landing four job offers after the season.

“She felt confident that she was going to do well in the 5K,” Grigg said. “She was unhappy with her performance in the steeplechase and had already won the 5K indoor race back in February.”

Meyer took second in the 5K, giving JU eight points and flipping the lead back to the Dolphins with a four-point cushion heading into the final event of the meet, the 4x400 relay.

“She was more apologetic about not winning and getting only the eight points instead of 10,” said Gregg. “That was the concern for the team she had. It was a clutch performance. She knew what was going on and it provided motivation as to ‘I need to do this’ and not ‘I want to do this.’”

With the meet coming down to the 4x400, JU needed to finish at least third to tie and second to clinch the victory. The injury to Campbell left the Dolphins’ roster depleted and made Kennesaw State a heavy favorite in the race.

“We had a faster 4x400 time during the year. Our four best runners fresh against their four best, we are likely better,” said Grigg on the mindset of the final race.

“But the circumstances of the meet were that our No.2 400 runner and relay mainstay went down with injury during the competition. If she remains healthy then the meet outcome would have been more typical of our other A-Sun championship. But the matter of fact was we needed strong performances from four of our women in the last even if we were to win.”

It’s long been said that out of adversity comes opportunity. Enter Chynna Chung.  

“With Campbell’s injury, we had to find out who the fourth person on the relay was going to be,” said Grigg. “We are at the end of our rope and our runners have already raced in multiple events over the last two days.”

With Campbell out, it was assumed that Kennesaw State would win the race and score 10 points. As long as the Dolphins could place third they’d tie, and a second place finish would mean an outright win.  

“This is the most rewarding part of coaching,” said Grigg, when he called on the sophomore Chung. “She was a walk-on short sprinter who hadn’t run a 400 since her days in high school. The meet is completely on the line and without batting an eye she said ‘let’s go.’ I knew she was nervous, but she went out and did all that was asked of her.”

After Chung’s opening leg the Dolphins stood pat in fifth place and almost 30 meters back of second.

“Chyna did her job, we weren’t out of out of contention, but had a lot of work to do,” recalled Grigg.

Stormm Phillips took over next. The most outstanding freshman performer at the indoor meet was competing in her 12th event of the championship. Phillips moved the Dolphins up to fourth place in the race but only gained a few meters on the coveted second place position.

Grigg was expecting the gap to narrow when Shanique Walker grabbed the baton for the third leg. Walker was competing in her ninth event and had already won the 100-meter hurdles, the 400-meter hurdles and was second in the 100-meter dash and the triple jump.

“Shanique moved us into third place, but it was clear how tired she was,” Grigg said of Walker, who was named the Championship MVP and the Outdoor Most Outstanding Track Athlete. “We were still well down, she gained a place but we were still 20-25 meters back.”

North Florida did not have a single runner entered for the 400 meter race during the meet. But the Ospreys were ready to go during the 4x400, running right behind Kennesaw State through the first 1,200 meters of the relay.

“It really surprised me how well UNF was running,” said Grigg. “You have to give them credit.”

Courtney Walker took the baton for the final leg still trailing North Florida’s Alyssa Younker by a good margin. Walker remained well back of Younker after the first 200 meters, but with 150 meters left she made her move.  

“She made a big move with 150 meters left and with 100 meters to go she got a few steps in front of the UNF runner,” said Grigg. “From there we think it’s over, but Younker continued to fight and the two of them stayed stride for stride all the way to the finish.”

At the finish line Walker kept her lead and nudged Younker by a half-second for second place, which secured the outright title for JU.

“It was a nail biter all the way to the end,” concluded Grigg. “We have a small group of very talented kids and we ask them to do a lot. The way they responded when challenged down to the wire speaks volumes of their character.”

It’s that quality of character that brings championships home for Jacksonville year after year. Eighteen and counting.

Check in every Monday and Thursday for the next two weeks as we continue to countdown Jacksonville’s Top 10 moments of 2013-14!

#10: Men’s Basketball Dominates Dunk City
#9: Men’s Freshman/Novice 8+ Claim Dad Vail Crown
#8: Women’s Basketball Shocks Mercer on Senior Day at Swisher
#7: Women’s Golf Catches Fire to Win the Cincinnati Spring Invitational
#6: Women’s Lacrosse Makes it Three Conference Tournament Titles in a Row
#5: Baseball Downs Florida in Gainesville
#4: Women’s Rowing Wins First-Ever MAAC Title
#3: Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Wins A-Sun Championship at the Wire
#2: Coming July 14th
#1: Coming July 17th