NCAA National Athletes of the Week Shine at Conference Meets

Courtesy: Tyler Mayforth & Kyle Terwillegar, USTFCCCA

March 1, 2016   

NEW ORLEANS — What do our National Athletes of the Week in NCAA Indoor Track & Field have in common?

They all put forth incredible performances this past weekend at their respective conference championships.

You can find out more about them by clicking their names or scrolling below.

National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to eight collegiate indoor track & field athletes (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions and the NJCAA).

Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs.

The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.

NCAA DIVISION I MEN — Ryan Crouser, Texas

Senior | Throws
Boring, Oregon

By virtue of his first attempt this past weekend, Crouser won the Big 12 title in the shot put.

After locking that up, Crouser set his sights on a bigger goal — a collegiate record.

On his last throw of the day, Crouser uncorked a record-tying heave of 21.73m (71-3.5). Crouser tied the all-time best set by Arizona State’s Ryan Whiting at the 2008 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships.

This was the second time that Crouser eclipsed the 70-foot barrier in his career. Crouser’s first 70-foot throw came two years ago at the Big 12 Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

There must be something Crouser likes about competing for conference glory. We’ll see if it translates on the national stage in less than two weeks.

NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN — Akela Jones, Kansas State

Senior | Combined Events
St. Michael, Barbados

Very rarely do athletes turn in performances as historic as Akela Jones’ at the Big 12 Championships, and very rarely do those athletes make it look as easy as did Jones in Ames, Iowa, this weekend.

The senior from Barbados – now a three-time National Athlete of the Week – took home three Big 12 individual event titles in the high jump, long jump and 60-meter hurdles – a total of 31½ points when you add in her share of the third-place 4×400 relay team – and put her name all over the record books along the way.

On Friday she took a share of both the national long jump lead and the No. 8 spot on the all-time collegiate performers list with a second-attempt leap of 6.75m (22-1¾) to win by a foot over national No. 5 Kate Hall of Iowa State.

She picked up two more wins on Saturday. In the high jump, she cleared a collegiate-leading 1.90m on her first attempt, and then one-upped herself at 1.93m (6-4) with a second-attempt clearance for a share of the No. 11 spot on the all-time college performers list. She topped teammate Kimberly Williamson – equal to No. 3 on the 2016 NCAA performers list – by 12 centimeters.

On the track, she ran a career-best 8.00 in the hurdles to win by .15 of a second.

When the dust of conference championships weekend cleared, she stood atop both the collegiate high jump and long jump lists. Only three women have run faster this season in the hurdles.

NCAA DIVISION II MEN — Jayce Thomas, Missouri Southern

Senior | Combined Events
Blue Sprints, Missouri

Most would have considered it a successful weekend to turn in the fourth-best heptathlon in the history of NCAA Division II. That’s what Jayce Thomas did when he won the MIAA title in the event with 5615 points, becoming just the fourth man in DII history to break the 5600-point barrier and the first to do so before the NCAA Championships.

But he wasn’t done there. He ran 8.24 for runner-up honors in the open 60-meter hurdles, jumped 15.01m (49-3) to finish fourth in the triple jump, and finished fifth both in the high jump and the pole vault.

All told, he scored 29½ points for high-point honors in the meet as Missouri Southern finished runner-up in the team race.

NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN — Salcia Slack, New Mexico Highlands

Senior | Combined Events
Kingston, Jamaica

In her final season of collegiate eligibility, Salcia Slack continues to cement her legacy as one of the best all-around athletes in NCAA Division II history. Between the five components of the pentathlon and all of her open event competitions (prelims and finals), Slack competed 14 times at this weekend’s RMAC Championships, scoring a whopping 53 points to lead New Mexico Highlands to a second conference crown in a row.

Her winning pentathlon score of 3959 may not have been a season’s best, but it was still better than anyone else in NCAA DII this year. She continued to roll from there, picking up wins in the 60-meter hurdles and triple jump, finishing runner-up in the 400, running a leg of the third-place 4×400 relay, finishing third in the high jump, taking fifth in the shot put and getting sixth in the long jump.

Her 12.98m (42-7) mark in the triple jump moved her atop the NCAA DII leaderboard and moved her up to No. 7 all-time in DII history; her 8.54 hurdles performance moved her to No. 4 in DII this year.

She also checked in nationally at No. 12 at 400 meters, No. 21 in the high jump, and No. 29 in the shot put.

NCAA DIVISION III MEN — Alex Mess, UW-Eau Claire

Senior | Throws
Lake Mills, Wisconsin

With the pressure on this past weekend, Alex Mess delivered.

Mess stepped into the circle at the WIAC Championships knowing a throw of 17.64m or better would secure him first place in the shot put. UW-Oshkosh’s Zach Baehman just fouled on his last attempt, leaving the door open for Mess.

And when Mess’ orb landed 57 feet, 10.5 inches in front of the circle, the championship was secured. Mess won by one centimeter over Baehman (17.64m to 17.63m).

The following day, Mess decided to assert himself and dominated the weight throw. Mess crushed the competition by nearly four feet and set a personal best of 19.47m (63-10.5).

He is currently ranked No. 1 nationally in the shot put and second in the weight throw.

NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN — Nia Joiner, Illinois-Wesleyan

Senior | Sprints & Jumps
Lombard, Illinois

Until this past weekend, only one woman in NCAA Division III history had run under 7.54 in the 60.

That was former Lincoln standout Rhondale Jones back in 2001 at the Penn State Open.

Well, Rhondale, you now have company.

During the finals of the CCIW Indoor Track & Field Championships, Nia Joiner tied Jones’ record of 7.51. Joiner crossed the finish line well ahead (0.23) of the runner-up.

Prior to her record-tying run, Joiner was tied for third on the all-time chart at 7.55.

Joiner added another title to her tally that weekend in the long jump. Joiner soared 5.65m (18-6.5) and qualified for NCAAs in that event in the process.