Winters, Jones reflect on Indoor Track and Field National Championships

Shot put thrower Dani Winters and high jumper Aleka Jones became NCAA indoor champions in their respective events at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships Mar. 11-12, 2016, in Birmingham, Alabama. With one national title each under their belts, Winters and Jones now set their sights on the outdoor season and winning the same championships there, as well as on the not-so-distant 2016 Summer Olympics which happen in August. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

For seniors Akela Jones and Dani Winters, the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship is familiar turf. They had both been there before. They knew what to expect.

The NCAA Indoor Championship is a stacked meet, K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto said.

“There are some events where what it takes to make the final at the NCAA meet will be superior to what it takes to make the final at the world indoor,” Rovelto said. “It really is the best meet in the country. … There’s no other meet that compares.”

Winters said she knew the competition in the women’s shot put was close.

“I went in knowing it was anyone’s game,” Winters said.

Only 0.08 meters separated the second place shot put spot from the fifth place shot put spot, but that didn’t matter for Winters. Her throw of 17.97 meters easily topped the competition.

Winters said the distance shocked her at first, and she had to spend the entire second round waiting to see if anyone could best her throw. She said It became a balancing act between keeping herself calm and keeping herself psyched up.

“I just assumed someone would jump me,” Winters said.

No one did.

Jones had a similar reaction when she topped the competition in the high jump.

“Did I just jump that? Did that really just happen at the NCAAs?” Jones said of her reaction once she cleared the bar. “It was surreal.”

Prior to carding a jump of 6-1 1/2 to win the women’s open high jump, Jones had an incredible performance in the pentathlon high jump. She recorded a jump of 6-6, which is just one centimeter shy of the indoor world record. Her performance not only broke a school record, but it also tied the NCAA Indoor Championship meet record and set a new Barbados national record.

For both Jones and Winters, the wins marked their first individual indoor national titles. There is little time for the two to rest as they look to build on their momentum into the outdoor season.

Winters said she believes that as far as throwing is concerned, it is important not to focus so hard on attaining a certain distance with her throws, but to work more toward continuous improvement.

“(Throws coach Greg Watson) really keeps me grounded and helps me to focus each day in practice knowing there’s a big picture plan,” Winters said.

Jones said she will be focusing on working toward the outdoor championship and eventually the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

“There’s going to be a lot on our back to produce a lot of points for the team,” Jones said. “We just need to keep training hard. Once we train hard, I think the results on the track will speak for itself.”