MIRAMAR, Fla. (Ole Miss Athletics/WTVA) - Ole Miss track & field concluded a spectacular weekend of competition with another dominant performance out of freshman Jayda Eckford, who became the fourth Rebel to punch their ticket to Costa Rica at the final day of the USATF U20 Outdoor Championships on Sunday afternoon.
Eckford – a native of Clinton, Mississippi – followed the lead established by Joseph Benedetto, Tedreauna Britt and Brandee Presley on Day One and Day Two, running two blistering 200-meter times. In the prelim, Eckford became the first Rebel to ever break 23 seconds, winning Heat Two at an IAAF wind-legal status at 22.98 (+0.6). She then went on to obliterate the school record in the final at 22.72 (+2.2) less than two hours later, finishing second at an NCAA wind-legal reading to punch her ticket to the Pan American U20 Championships in July.
“I am so excited about the way Jayda ran today,” said Ole Miss head coach Connie Price-Smith. “It was nice seeing her finally break the 23-second barrier, and her reaction was priceless when she saw her time.”
Fellow freshman Kelly Rowe also ran in Heat Two of the 200-meter prelims, but heartbreakingly fell just three hundredths of a second shy of qualifying for the final at 24.02 (+0.6).
Sunday’s accomplishments are merely the latest in what shaped up to be a superb outdoor season for Eckford. Her 200-meter time truly started to drop, however, at the NCAA East Regional. Entering the regional meet ranked 18th at 23.24 (-0.1), Eckford proceeded to fly through prelim at a new PR of 23.19 (+1.1) before dropping a 23.06 (+1.0) in the final to punch her ticket to Austin for the NCAA Championships.
Firmly established as one of the top U20 sprinters in the world, Eckford dropped her time even further at the national meet, running 23.00 into a -0.1 headwind to finish 11th overall for Second-Team All-American honors.
Eckford’s school record performance displaced eight-time All-American Teneeshia Jones’ overall record of 22.97 (+2.2) and her all-conditions record of 22.83 (+4.8), both of which have stood since 2001. Combined with fellow freshman Brandee Presley’s school record in the 100-meter dash on Saturday, Jones saw two of her three 18-year old outdoor records fall in a 24-hour span. Jones still owns the 100-meter hurdles record of 13.27 (+1.0), also from 2001.
The dynamic duo of Eckford and Presley have been wreaking havoc on the Rebel record book all year, but this weekend they took it to another level. On Saturday, Presley laid the groundwork for Eckford after taking down Jones’ record of 11.24 (+0.5) two different times, running 11.23 (+3.1) in the prelim before claiming the U.S. title at a wind-legal 11.19 (+2.0) within two hours of each other – making her the first Rebel to ever break 11.20.
Eckford’s performance on Sunday wrapped up an extraordinarily successful meet for the Rebels, who tied with Kentucky for the most entries onto Team USA with five from Eckford (200-meter), Presley (100-meter), Tedreauna Britt (discus, shot put) and Joseph Benedetto (hammer).
“This weekend has been a treat to be a part of,” Price-Smith said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the five athletes we had compete here over the past three days. We have four athletes that get to go represent the United States of America and Ole Miss at the same time, and that puts a big smile on my face. (Sprints coach Anthony) Acklin and (throws coach) John (Smith) did a great job in getting them ready. I can’t wait to see them compete in Costa Rica next month!”
The Pan American U20 Outdoor Championships will be held July 18-21 in San Jose, Costa Rica. That is far from the final competition for the Rebels this summer, though. Sophomore Cade Bethmann will run for Team USA at the NACAC U23 Championships in Queretaro, Mexico on July 5-7, while a handful of Rebels, past and present, will compete at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa on July 25-28 to vie for spots on Team USA for the 2019 IAAF World Outdoor Championships – held this year in Doha, Qatar from September 27 until October 6.