Jennies track and field are a month removed from a pep rally celebrating an indoor track and field national title. In those five weeks, the team has been ranked No. 1 in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Association. But make no mistake: at Central Missouri, conference comes first.
“National titles are fantastic,” said co-head coach Kirk Pedersen. “But sometimes that requires some luck and some things to fall just right for that to happen. I think both me and (co-head coach Kip Janvrin) put a lot of emphasis on the conference meet.”
The No. 9 Lincoln Lady Blue Tigers are defending national champions and are seeking their fifth straight conference title. However, UCM snapped Lincoln’s streak of four indoor conference titles this season, and Pedersen said No. 5 Pittsburg State has also stepped into contention.
“Outdoor Lincoln will be a threat to us for sure,” Pedersen said. “A team that has quietly gotten a lot better is Pittsburg State. They’re a team that can definitely compete for a conference title. We’ll go head to head in a lot of events with them. That’ll be fun.”
Freshman Erika Kinsey, who took gold at the indoor conference meet in high jump, long jump and triple jump, will look to match conference-leading marks from Pittsburg State’s Antquinta Reed. Reed, a senior, is the defending national champion in the outdoor triple jump, but played basketball for the Gorillas during the indoor season.
Senior Megan Glamann will have to shave more than 30 seconds off her best times in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter race to catch PSU senior Jessica Macy and claim her first conference title.
Four Jennies look to score big points early in the meet in the heptathlon.
Senior Madison Smith, who earned the Dr. Peggy Martin Award for Outstanding Senior Student-Athlete of the Year with Jakki Prater, automatically qualified for the national meet in March with a score of 5,262. Sophomore Katie Cassidy and junior Victoria Jackson have scores of more than 4,000 points each. Senior Zoe Sharplin, an indoor All-American, will compete in her first meet since recovering from an injury sustained during the indoor season.
Pedersen said Sharplin is healthy and will look to qualify for the national meet with this weekend’s performance.
While some stronger athletes look to qualify for further competition, Pedersen said winning conference is about having a balanced team, with points scored in nearly every event.
“We’re here together as an entire team and doing the best thing we can,” Pedersen said. “And we like to be balanced programs, where we hope to score in every event, every year.”
Another annual challenge for the Jennies is regrouping for conference after dividing the team across three meets last weekend … and studying for finals.
“It’s a whirlwind right now,” Pedersen said. “Part of our job is keeping us focused on what we have on hand here, which is getting ready for conference, as well as getting ready for finals. Trying to balance all of that and getting ready to compete in the classroom as well as the track.
“You know, our team is used to that. We do that every year.”
The MIAA Outdoor Championships, hosted by Lindenwood, begins Friday at 2 p.m. in St. Charles, Mo.