JACKSONVILLE, Florida—Sanaria Butler has had one of the best seasons a freshman has had at Northwestern State.
She wasn’t about to have it end just yet.
Butler, the Southland Conference Female Athlete of the Year, etched her name even more into the NSU record books, earning a spot at nationals on the final day of the NCAA East prelims Saturday evening.
The freshman, running in lane No. 6, came from behind once again to earn a spot in the 400-meter dash at nationals in Austin, Texas, in June, clocking a 53.88, a half-second before Purdue’s Cierra Williams.
“Sanaria continues to impress,” sprints coach Adam Pennington said. “She has had such an impressive season and continues to show up at the right time. This is my first 400m runner to advance to NCAAs so it’s definitely an exciting moment.
“She has worked really hard to put herself in this position. And to do it against the best in the NCAA as a freshman is very rare. She will be competing for a USA spot on the junior team in Oregon in July so this is a great race prior.”
Like Thursday’s preliminaries, Butler turned it on down the straightaway once again to punch her ticket as one of 12 qualifiers, finishing third in heat two.
The top three of each heat earn automatic qualifiers to Austin, as well as the next three fastest times.
With 100 meters to go, the freshman was in sixth place, but made her move with about 60 meters left to bolt her way to the third-place finish.
Butler becomes the first NSU freshman to advance to nationals in an individual event since Cody Fillinich in the javelin in 2005 and first female since Samantha Ford in the javelin in 2003.
A Port Arthur, Texas, native, Butler will head back to her home state for nationals, which is a little under four hours from Austin.
While Butler’s dream season continued, the stellar season for Maygan Shaw came to a close in the 400-meter dash. The sophomore from Pineville ran a 53.55 to place 15th, just missed joining her teammate in Austin.
Running in a stacked third heat, the sophomore placed seventh, coming out of lane No. 2. The third heat posted four of the top eight times in the event as well as five of the top 10.
“Both ladies ran so well,” Pennington said. “I believe if Maygan had a better lane she had a legit chance. She will be back and she will advance in the future. What an amazing season for her.”
Shaw finishes her season with a gold medal in the 400-meters, narrowly beating out Butler, who broke the school record in the event in Waco in April.
The pair fought back-and-forth all season long in the event, so naturally, it came down to the two in both the SLC championships and were both in a spot to reach nationals.
Following the 400, Butler and Shaw had one more event.
To cap off the NCAA East preliminaries, the women’s 4×400 relay team, ran a 3:39.86, which would have been 17th. However, the Lady Demons were disqualified for running two steps on or over a nearby lane.
“The ladies 4×4 really fought hard just another bad lane selection,” Pennington said. “With three freshmen and a sophomore, to get this experience at such a young age is an advantage for years to come.”
Like individual events, the top 12 qualified in relays as well, with three heats of eight each. The top three from each heat and the next three fastest times reach nationals.
The SEC posted the top two times and five of the top eight, led by Florida and LSU.
Nationals begin June 8 for Butler with the preliminaries. The final is held two days later.