Stephens finally lands nationals bid


Photo by Robert Berger

Xavier Stephens qualified for the NAIA Indoor Track and Field National Championship last weekend in the 1,000 meters.

Written By Josh Croup, Co-Sports Editor

Xavier Stephens saw multiple races this indoor track season that met the qualifying standards for the national championships.

The times still weren’t good enough. After running on oversized tracks that forced Stephens’ times to go through conversions, he always was on the wrong side of qualifying for nationals.

That changed Saturday.

Stephens qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Indoor Track and Field National Championship at the regular season finale Saturday with a time of 2 minutes, 30.54 seconds in the 1,000 meters to finish second at the Kent State Tune Up.

“I was happy and I was shocked at first,” Stephens said. “It was only the second time I ran the event this season.”

His time was converted to 2 minutes, 32.62 seconds to meet the NAIA 200-meter track standards after running on an oversized track again at Kent State. Stephens will attend the national championships in Pittsburg, Kan. during spring break from March 1-3.

He previously was just shy of qualifying in the 800 meters on multiple occasions this season.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” Stephens said. “I’ve been running a lot stronger this season. I’m looking forward to competing on the national level and seeing where I can rank running against the best runners in the NAIA.”

Jryi Davis (triple jump), Shaun Berry (triple jump, high jump) and Chance Callahan (triple jump) will join Stephens as the other men’s qualifiers for nationals.

Davis finished third in the triple jump Saturday at Kent State with a 14.42-meter leap. He jumped 14.51 meters earlier this season to qualify for nationals, a distance that still ranks eighth in the NAIA this year.

Andre Lowery came six centimeters short of qualifying for nationals in the long jump, and Michael Morris came within three centimeters of hitting the qualifying standard in the high jump.

On the women’s side Saturday at Kent State, Anna Shields bested her own personal record with a 2 minute, 7.68-second finish in the 800 meters to win the event. Her previous best in the 800 meters was good for the No. 2 time in the country at 2 minutes, 13 seconds.

Her time at Kent State ranks as the top time in the NAIA this season. Shields enters the national championship week with the top times in the NAIA in the 600, 800, 1,000 and the mile.

Shields also had the fourth-best time in the 800 meters last weekend among all women’s college track and field runners in the country, behind two runners from Iowa State and one from Northern Iowa.

Joining Shields at nationals next week is freshman Ana Benitez, who lifted her own school record in the triple jump to 11.88 meters, giving her the third-best jump in the country this year. Her previous best jump of 11.63 meters was ranked seventh in the NAIA.

The women’s 4×400 relay and the distance medley relay teams will also travel to nationals in Kansas next week, featuring Shields, senior Olukemi Olugbakinro, and freshmen Kayla Roberts, Alyssa Boyd, Reba Bartram and Erica Hanserd.

The women enter the week as the No. 12-ranked team in the NAIA – the highest ranking in program history – and will have representation in seven events at nationals.