Northwestern State’s Steels vying for second national title Thursday

EUGENE, Oregon – Northwestern State jumper Jasmyn Steels can leap into history Thursday when she’ll attempt to win her second long jump national title and what would be her first outdoor national championship.

With her 2019 NCAA Indoor national title, Steels brought home NSU’s fourth track and field championship and would be the first Demon or Lady Demon to be a multiple national title holder should she capture the 2021 NCAA Outdoor long jump crown at Oregon’s historic Hayward Field.

The women’s long jump begins at 7 p.m. (Central Time) and can be seen on ESPN+. The field of 24 jumpers will get three attempts before the top nine advance to the finals for three more attempts.

Steels said she’s certainly motivated by leaving a lasting legacy at NSU as well as boosting the program’s profile nationally.

But what really is a driving factor that’s pushed the College Station, Texas, native to an indoor national title and an outdoor silver medal among a host of other accomplishments?

“The key for me – don’t go out and embarrass yourself,” Steels said. “Don’t look weird or stupid when you jump.

“That’s been the motivation. I know I’m an elite jumper now, but honestly, that’s the motivation. But I love the pressure. You can either step up and perform or you can fail. You just have to make it happen. Just be relaxed and calm.”

That calm demeanor has served Steels well on the national stage.

A virtual unknown in 2019, Steels surged into the national spotlight by upsetting the indoor field with her first attempt of 21-2.5, which was the first time she broke the school long jump record.

The track and field circuit is set up for student-athletes to peak at the outdoor conference and national championships, and Steels backed up her indoor performance when she unleashed her current school record mark of 22-0.25 to capture silver at the 2019 NCAA Outdoors.

Steels appeared to be on her way to a double national title in 2019 with that 22-foot jump on her fourth attempt, but Florida’s Yanis David uncorked a nearly 22-and-a-half foot leap to win.

Steels’ “just jump” attitude allows her to block out the peripheral noise, like the magnitude of the stage and other competitors.

“Jasmyn has poise because she’s been here before,” said TyRon Stewart, NSU’s jumps coach who was a five-time All-American jumper who went on to a distinguished professional career that included a USA Indoor long jump title. “Being on those big stages helps you calm your nerves, and she knows she’s capable of something special.

“Her mindset is unique in that she’s calm, cool and collected, yet she knows what she wants and how to achieve it. The weather doesn’t bother her. The time of day doesn’t bother her (the 2019 Outdoor Championships finished at almost midnight because of a weather delay). I was a complainer as an athlete, so what she’s able to do is very impressive and she doesn’t understand that yet. It doesn’t take much for her to be ready to go.”

Steels continued her upward trend in 2020, jumping more than 21 feet twice and winning her first Southland Conference title at the 2020 Indoor Championships in early March.

She was on the track in New Mexico preparing to repeat as an indoor champion at 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships when the world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steels was a senior in what was supposed to be her final season. The NCAA granted student-athletes an additional outdoor track season because the entire campaign was canceled, but the NCAA did not grant another indoor season.

That meant Steels didn’t compete from March of 2020 to the beginning of this outdoor season in March – one full calendar year.

When she stepped on the track in her first competition back, Steels said she had to make sure she still “had it.”

“With no indoor season, I was just anxious the whole time,” said Steels, who meticulously stayed fit throughout the pandemic with the 2021 outdoor season in mind. “When it was the first meet (March 20 at TCU), I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I get to jump, let’s see if I’ve still got it because I really had no idea.

“I had practiced well, but I had to go out there and do it to prove it to myself. But honestly, I think I needed that break. I redefined my goals in 2021 because I had to figure out if I still had it.”

The answer? A jump of 21-2 at TCU before logging two jumps of her season-best 21-5.25 in April.

“Of course she proved that she was still at that level,” said NSU head track and field coach Mike Heimerman, who’s guided the program’s only other female national champion Trecey Rew in 2011. “It’s a tribute to her strong mental makeup and the mentality with which she approaches things.

“A few others I’ve been around have had it, but it’s such a strong quality to have. The ice water in your veins. She just takes it day by day and what happens will happen. Her and (Stewart) are both calm in that way, and it’s great to see that she’s followed what he’s set up for her and showed you how bad she’s wanted it.”

This season hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Steels nearly missed out on the Southland Conference finals with two small toe fouls before landing a finals mark and eventually winning her first SLC Outdoor title.

She didn’t leave anything to chance at the NCAA East Preliminaries in late May, posting a 21-2.75 on her first jump and finishing seventh to advance to nationals.

“We went back to the basics this fall, working on things that got here there in 2019,” said Stewart, who thought Steels could be a national threat at the end of the 2018 season. “Her rhythm and confidence are where they need to be even though it’s been a nerve-racking process.

“We got more detailed in the weight room, gained more muscle mass to get ready. She’s prepared extremely well for this.”

Steels will need her composure in a historically deep women’s long jump field.

Four jumpers have logged a mark of at least 22 feet this season, long thought to be a distance capable of winning a national championship.

Steels’ season-best of 21-5.25 ranks 15th in the field.
“There are some insane marks out there, but I’m very excited to get to compete with these women,” Steels said. “I do et nervous, it’s an anxious nervous.

“But it’s an excited energy to get started. I can’t stop thinking about it. I might only jump one or two times a week during practice, but I can’t wait to do it again. It’s natural to get nervous, but I know what I’m doing and I trust myself. Let’s go out and do it – let’s compete.”

Steels will lean on the experience of her two podium finishes at nationals, something only two other jumpers in the field can tout.

Texas’ Tara Davis set a collegiate indoor record of 22-9 to take the 2021 title before she set the overall college record this spring with a 23-5.25. At Georgia, Davis took bronze in the 2018 Indoor.

Texas A&M’s Debroah Acquah stood on both of Steels’ podiums. Steels bested Acquah in the 2019 Indoor competition as Acquah placed second. At the 2019 Outdoors, Acquah took bronze as Steels captured silver.

Steels knows she can’t control other jumpers, so she’s focusing on jumping in the mid-22s with the hope of putting her NSU record out of reach of future Lady Demons.

“I want to make sure nobody can ever get that school record,” Steels said. “The record right now is achievable because we have plenty of women here with the great coaching staff that can break the current one.

“The main goal is to win, but I also want to stay on that NSU board as long as I can.”

A second national title would obviously set Steels apart in the NSU record books, but reaching a third national podium would as well.

She’s already one of just three NSU athletes to podium twice – joining javelin thrower Steve Stockton (third in 1981 Outdoor and second in 1983 Outdoor) and high jumper Brian Brown (indoor champion in 1990 and third in 1988 Indoor).

“It’s huge, and it speaks to the quality of athlete she is and the coaching that (Stewart) has done,” Heimerman said. “We’ve had a lot of good ones here, so that would certainly be rare air.

“Jasmyn knows what it takes. She could PR and might still get beat, but she’s going to do everything she can. She’s not going to succumb to the pressure, and she doesn’t worry about what’s going on around her. She’s already put NSU jumps back on the map following a long tradition.”

PHOTO: Erik Williams/Southland Conference