WACO, Texas—Throughout the illustrious history of Northwestern State sprinters, there have been many All-Americans and All-Conference selections.
But few have made as big of an impact as a freshman than Sanaria Butler.
In just her freshman season, she broke the school’s record in the 400-meter dash, doing so in front of the home crowd this past Saturday at the Leon Johnson NSU Invitational.
“We’ve had some outstanding men and women during my tenure here,” head coach Mike Heimerman said. “(Former NSU athlete) Speedy (Jackson) was a highly touted sprinter. She is probably one of the most talented sprinters to ever come through the Southland Conference and NSU, and Sanaria has already broken her 400-meter record in her first season.
“And she might break De’Shalyn Jones’ 200-meter record (23.04) this year also. And those are two of the best sprinters to ever grace the NSU campus, and she has accomplished this as a true freshman. She’s just amazing.”
Her blistering 52.22 sprint not only broke the school record, but broke the meet record, Walter P. Ledet Track Complex record and currently ranks fourth in the world in the 400-meters for under-20 athletes, first among Americans.
That time also is second in Southland Conference history.
Her stellar showing, including finishing second in the long jump with a distance of 20-0.25, earned her the Southland Conference Female Track Performer of the Week.
“In my short time here so far, I think I have improved in the long jump the most,” Butler said. “While it wasn’t the main event for me to start, but now, I feel like I have gotten so much better in it.”
She’s done all of that as a freshman, standing out among a crowd of impressive sprinters in the NSU history.
But if you ask sprints coach Adam Pennington, he is not surprised at her success, even if it is earlier than he anticipated.
“I knew what she was capable of doing and I felt that she would do that this year,” he said. “I didn’t know it would be this early in the season, but overall, I did expect big things from her. When recruiting her and bringing her in, I knew we were getting a pretty good athlete.”
Butler a native of Port Arthur, Texas, aims to even sore to new heights in an incredible freshman campaign as she and the Northwestern State track & field teams head to the Michael Johnson Invitational for a two-day meet, beginning Friday at the Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium on the campus of Baylor University.
The meet starts with the women’s hammer throw at 11 a.m. Friday, with the meet beginning at the same time Saturday morning. Butler’s signature event, the women’s 400-meters, is at 3:50 on Saturday afternoon.
While the 400-meters is her main event, it was only fitting that Butler—along with Maygan Shaw and fellow freshmen Sian Weller and Vanessa Balde—were on the track as NSU completed one of its biggest moments in program history, earning the program’s first women’s indoor track & field team title, doing so in Birmingham in February.
The freshmen group as a whole deserves a lot of accolades and each of them strides to make the others better.
“Sanaria gets a lot of praise for being a great freshman, but I think Vanessa Balde is also one of the best freshmen in the country,” Pennington said. “The whole freshmen group has pushed each other really well all the way across the board. They have done a good job continuing to grow and get better with each other.”
However, one young athlete has been more of a competition than others in practice and at meets.
“Maygan Shaw has really pushed her,” Pennington said. “Every time you have a girl who is continuing to be at the top and run at a high level, who I think will turn right back around and break the school record herself, it is big. I think the record will go back-and-forth between those two and the competition between those two girls only fuels them to be better athletes.”
Part of each other being pushed is the friendly rivalry Shaw and Butler have.
“Maygan and I have a bit of a friendly rivalry,” Butler said. “We don’t really show it, but we can feel it. We know it’s there, especially in practice when we are always racing each other.”
Five of the top 20 programs on the men’s side and three of the top 21 on the women’s side are participating in the meet, including Texas Tech (No. 2 on the men’s side) and Texas (No. 1 in women’s, No. 8 in men’s). Outside of NSU and host Baylor, 19 other schools are participating.
Texas A&M-Commerce and Incarnate Word are the two other schools in the Southland Conference at the meet.