Feature Friday: Matching Mindset Motivates Minnesota State Duo

Denisha Cartwright and Makayla Jackson never have to look too far to find each other.

Not in Mankato, Minnesota – a city of about 45,000 inhabitants, 80 miles southwest of Minneapolis – where Cartwright and Jackson have been teammates at NCAA Division II Minnesota State, Mankato, since Cartwright transferred from Central State back in 2021.

Not on the podium, where Cartwright and Jackson have both finished among the top-8 athletes in the same event 13 times at either the NSIC Championships or NCAA DII Championships in the past three years. That includes a pair of 1-2 sweeps for the dynamic duo in the short sprints at both the NSIC Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field Championships last year.

Not in the record book, where Cartwright and Jackson have cemented themselves as two of the most prolific sprinters in NCAA DII history: Cartwright currently sits fourth on the all-time chart in the 60 meters at 7.23 with the seventh- and eighth-fastest performances; Jackson is fifth, just 0.01 seconds behind Cartwright, with the ninth-fastest performance in the division annals.

Not even holistically, where Cartwright and Jackson share the same ethos.

“My goal is to keep progressing and keep dropping times and become a national champion again,” said Cartwright, who has lowered her PR in the 60 from 7.52 in 2021 to 7.23, which she recorded this past weekend. “Every time I’m on the track, I want to do something great.”

“My mindset going into this year is to just try to stay consistent and also keep myself healthy,” said Jackson, who is also sixth on the all-time chart in the long jump at 6.37m (20-10¾). “It actually took a lot for me to build my mentality in the way it’s in right now. I tend to not let a lot of things get to me, especially track wise. I keep my mindset very strong just focusing on one thing at a time instead of trying to overthink and focus on many things at once.”

Cartwright and Jackson both head to the NCAA DII Indoor Championships next weekend at the Virginia Beach Sports Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, entered in four events each: they both will compete in the 60, 200 and as part of the Mavericks’ 4×400 relay, with the only separation coming in their third individual event – 60H (Cartwright) and long jump (Jackson). Cartwright and Jackson make up seven of Minnesota State’s 17 entries into the Championships.

Imagine this: Cartwright and Jackson could feasibly contribute 61 points to the Mavericks’ total by themselves – an astronomical feat. That would mean a 1-2 finish in both the 60 and 200, winning each of their outliers and helping the Mavericks end the meet with a 4×400 relay title. Needless to say, if the duo comes remotely close to that total, it would certainly provide a boost in Minnesota State’s chances of becoming just the second women’s program to win consecutive indoor titles since the turn of the millennium (Grand Valley State in 2011 and 2012).

Chris Parno, who is in his tenth year as associate head track & field coach with the Mavericks, knows the duo will attract attention in Virginia and just about anywhere else they compete. 

“They’re going to walk into the room and they’re going to be the ones that everybody looks at, like, ‘Hey! There’s those two,’” Parno said.

Additional reporting by USTFCCCA Communications Intern Kristen Blevins.