Running for the prize: Racers represented in NCAAs during track’s record-setting season

Sophie McDonald
Sports Editor

Ben Morrow
Staff writer

 

Men’s basketball is not the only Murray State sport going to the NCAA Championships this year.

Photo by Teri LaJeunesse/courtesy of Sports Information

Alexis Love, junior from Palmetto, Fla., has burned up the track all year for the indoor squad. Last weekend, Love qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships with a school record 23.66 records in the 200-meter dash at a qualifying meet at Notre Dame. The run broke Heather Samuel’s 18-year-old record by .36 seconds and was one of three school records set over the weekend.

“I’m really excited,” Love said. “To say that I’m excited, to me is an understatement – this is crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, really words can’t describe it; I’m so thankful and so happy.”

Love also tied her own record in the 60-meter dash at 7.42 seconds, a mark she set the week before at the OVC Championships in Nashville, Tenn. Love previously won the OVC title in the 200-meter dash with a time of 24.05 seconds.

Even though she had been working toward the goal, Love didn’t think this would be the year she would compete in the NCAAs.

“I don’t know about calming the excitement down, I’m still jittery,” Love said with a laugh. “Mentally I’m just going in with the same mindset, knowing I have to do everything, run faster and stuff like that, but mentally I just sleep on it and think about what I need to work on and what I didn’t do in the last race that could make me faster and just trying to stay focused.”

With a broad path ahead, Love is entering the tournament with excitement and seriousness.

“I’m most excited about just running overall and running with the other athletes and running at another level besides conference,” she said. “I’m most nervous about running on a bank track, that’s kind of different. Usually you’ll run on a flat surface but it’s a bank track and it’s like you’re almost running on a hill (around the corners). I’ve only ran on one once, so it will be different for me.”

The record-setting junior was 3 years old the last time Murray State was represented in the NCAAs for indoor track, however, the waiting game between the qualification run and when Love found out she was running on the national stage was the hardest part.

“After I ran at Notre Dame (March 3), I had to wait all the way until Monday at 6 p.m. (to find out if I was selected),” Love said. “So I was at study hall and all the sudden I hear something go, ‘Woo hoo!’ and my coach ran in and yelled, ‘We’re going! We’re going!’ I just kept asking, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ We were jumping up and down and I hugged my head coach.”

Her excitement remained, but Love needed assurance even after she was selected.

“I couldn’t believe it so 30 minutes later I said, ‘Coach, in case they made a change we should look again.’ He said, ‘Alexis, just calm down, you’re going.’”

Photo by Teri LaJeunesse/courtesy of Sports Information

Her sprint into fame seemed to take the humble track star by surprise.

“It’s kind of a big deal now, like, people know about me,” Love said. “I got on (goracers.com) this morning and saw the splash page and was just like, ‘that’s me! They’re telling me good luck, oh my gosh!’ I sent that link to my dad and was like, ‘Dad, they’re telling me good luck, this is big.’”

Despite the national attention the men’s basketball team is receiving due to its record-setting season, Love said she doesn’t feel overshadowed by them in the least.

“They have their pictures on goracers.com, my picture is on goracers.com – I feel like we’re all working toward the same goal,” Love said. “I don’t feel like they overshadow me, even the basketball players are giving me shout outs and stuff on Twitter, so they know.”

Love’s family is proud and excited of her entrance into the national tournament but the 43-hour drive prevents them from being in attendance today.

“They were really excited,” Love said. “Most of them said they expected it and my mom and my dad are just so proud.”

Love will race the NCAA Indoor Championship today at Jacksons Indoor Track at Boise State. Preliminaries are set for 7:45 p.m., and the runners who qualify will race at 9 p.m.

The latest accomplishment is merely the apex of a breakout season for the Murray State indoor track team. A third Murray State record set at Notre Dame came from Sharda Bettis, a sophomore from Dallas, Texas, who ran the 60-meter hurdles in 8.65 seconds.

The weekend’s performance at Notre Dame underscored a strong showing at the OVC Championships the weekend before. Besides Love’s 200-meter title, two other athletes finished with OVC first-place titles. Bettis ran a personal record 7.99 in the 55-meter hurdles, and Tonia Pratt, freshman from Michigan Center, Mich., won the weight throw with a career-best 17.79 meters.

Pratt has been awarded the 2012 OVC Freshman of the Year for Indoor Track.

Even with the team’s success, Head Coach Jenny Severns said she hopes to see even more from this already productive team.

“We had some really good standout performances, but I also don’t think anybody is as good as they are going to get,” Severns said. “Everybody can walk away saying, ‘This is what I did well, and this is what I can do better next time’.”

The second-year coach praised the attitude and hard work of her athletes, but said her approach is to be happy without being satisfied.

“It’s our job as coaches to not let (the athletes) settle or be satisfied with a performance when we know they are capable of doing better,” Severns said. “The second you’re satisfied is the second you stop improving. No one on this team has reached the level where they are at the best level that they can possibly be. It’s going to be exciting going into outdoors to see what our athletes are capable of doing.”

Severns said the track team should only be more exciting to watch as time goes by.

“I love our team,” she said. “They have really good attitudes and personalities. They really look out for each other and cheer for each other. They’re fighters. They’re just young. In a couple of years, it’s scary to think how good we could be.”