BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Northwestern State long jumper Jasmyn Steels entered the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships Friday night ranked ninth in the country. She walked out an instant NSU legend.
With a school record 21-2 ½ leap, the junior from College Station, Texas, won the fourth NCAA championship in Northwestern State track and field history in her first career appearance in a national meet.
Steels broke a 15-year-old school record set by four-time All-American Stephanie Sowell on her very first jump of the evening in the 16-athlete preliminary round. That 21-2 ½ mark was matched in the fifth of six rounds by Deborah Acquah of Texas A&M, but Steels retained the lead because her second-best jump Friday was 21-1 ¼ to 20-0 ½ by Acquah.
The advantage held up through the final round with Acquah fouling, locking up the stunning victory for Steels, who previously owned a personal best of 20-9 ¼. She was unbeaten in four long jump competitions this season until she was upset at the Southland Conference Indoors, finishing second with a 20-4 ½ mark in the same venue, the Birmingham CrossPlex.
Friday night, in her return to the arena, she had the greatest series of her life. Four of her six attempts were better than any previous career jump. Her four best marks ranked first, third, sixth and eighth in the field.
“This feels great. I came in really ready to jump,” said Steels. “Ever since the conference meet I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve been super tuned-in. I’ve been ready and focused for several weeks to be honest, and it all worked out.”
The College Station, Texas, native climbed among the elite champions in school history: the 1981 4×100 meter relay team of Victor Oatis, Joe Delaney, Mario Johnson and Mark Duper; Brian Brown, the 1990 men’s indoor high jump champion; and the 2011 women’s discus winner, Tracy Rew.
Steels joined Rew as Lady Demons who have captured a national championship for NSU and became the first to do so indoors. Sowell’s second place indoors in 2004 was the previous best by a female competitor from Northwestern. Her career best was a winning 20-10 ½ at the 2003 Southland Outdoors.
Friday night, Steels bettered that on her first two attempts, equaled it on her third, and topped it again on the fifth (20-11 ¾).
Head track and field coach Mike Heimerman said he could not be prouder of Steels’ ground-breaking accomplishment.
“I am very ecstatic. This is an unbelievable night,” said Heimerman. “Like I said Thursday, she was capable of placing anywhere from first to last, but tonight she was on fire. (Jumps) coach Tyron (Stewart) had her set up to jump her best.
“The foot foul she had in round five would’ve been close to 22 feet. I am very proud of her. It’s an awesome day to be a Demon. We are going to relish this win.”
Stewart knew Steels was in the right state of mind and was eager to see what she would do.
“I’m so proud of what she accomplished and I believed in her the whole way. Leading up to this championship she has been looking great, but she’s been looking great all year,” said Stewart, a five-time All-American long and triple jumper at Texas A&M who won the 2014 USA Indoor long jump title.
“She really went out there and executed it the way I wanted her to and followed the game plan perfectly. Everything she has done this season leading up to this has made me a proud coach. I can’t ask for more than this right now.”
Associate head coach Adam Pennington said the first jump set the tone for Steels’ victory.
“She went out there and popped off that first jump and that’s really what set the momentum for her. More than anything, I think she kind of rattled some of the other girls in the competition after she set the standard,” said Pennington, who was in Birmingham with Stewart and Steels. “She was consistent across the board, and being consistent is what won her that national title.
“To be second in the conference championship and then turn around and win it all, is just an amazing story.”
Steels’ second-best jump, which was her second attempt in the prelims, would have beaten all competitors except Acquah’s best and tied the third-place leap by Yanis David of Florida.
The top national indoor qualifier, Rougui Sow of Florida State, placed ninth at 20-6½.
The rest of the NSU track and field teams open the 2019 outdoor season Saturday morning at the McNeese Cowboy Relays/Bob Hayes Challenge in Lake Charles.