AUSTIN, Texas — Magical numbers.
That’s what Northwestern State track and field coach Mike Heimerman is looking for from junior jumper Jasmyn Steels and sophomore pole vaulter Reagan Darbonne as both compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on Thursday.
Darbonne will start the pole vault at 7:30 p.m. with Steels taking the long jump runway at 8:30 p.m. at the University of Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium. Fans can follow live results or watch a live stream of those events with links found on the NSU schedule page at nsudemons.com.
Magical numbers, but not unattainable marks.
“Jasmyn was jumping in the high 20s last year, and now she is in the mid 21s — that’s huge,” Heimerman said. “Any time you start getting into a certain range for athletes, any improvement after a certain plateau is very, very hard.
“But both Jasmyn and Reagan are in those ranges. Reagan could certainly eclipse that 14-foot mark in the pole vault. That and 21 feet in the long jump are both kind of magical numbers.”
Heimerman said 21 feet in the women’s long jump will put Steels in the thick of another national championship hunt after the junior took home the NCAA Indoors crown with a leap of 21-2 ½.
Steels’ wind-aided mark of 21-4 ¾ ranks sixth in the field of 24 jumpers. That season-best jump came at the Texas Relays in March, the same venue that will host this season’s NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Georgia’s Aliyah Whisby holds the nation’s best mark of 22-2 ¼ this season, but Steels’ three-jump average of 20-0 ¼ led all NCAA East Preliminary Round participants to qualify for nationals.
“It’s nice to have competed or at least practiced in the venue you will be in,” Heimerman said. “Being familiar with it helps her, and she’s already jumped far there.
“The NCAA championships is a lot different than most meets because they are very strict with a lot of guidelines, so it’ll help Jasmyn that she’s already competed at the NCAA Indoors. Jasmyn has competed against everybody at nationals, and she knows that she can beat any of them, it’s just going to be about who goes out that day and competes to the fullest.”
Darbonne had a career day at the NCAA East Preliminary Round two weeks ago when she cleared her personal best and NSU record 13-8 ¼. The Hackberry native didn’t have to attempt another height as she qualified in the top 12 of the regional to advance to nationals.
The sophomore is just one of four underclassmen in the 24-vaulter field, which includes 20 jumpers who have topped 14 feet led by NCAA record holder Olivia Gruver (15-6 ¼ from Washington).
“Reagan is almost a foot higher now than the record she broke last year, and I think she can break 14 feet, which would be more than 18 inches above her freshman best,” Heimerman said. “She’s grown a lot under (NSU associate head coach Adam Pennington) in such a short time.
“She didn’t qualify for the Texas Relays this year, so we left early (Monday) to get extra practice time at the venue. The vaulting pits are really close to the stands, so she’ll have to get used to that. But Reagan is the type of athlete that just grabs the (vault) pole and goes.”
NSU is sending student-athletes in multiple events to the NCAA Outdoor for the third time in four years and on the heels of a program-record eight student-athletes in 2018.
The Demons 4X100 relay barely missed an NCAA Outdoor appearance despite being down its top two sprinters with the likelihood that senior Micah Larkins advances to the individual 100 meters finals.
Heimerman points to the balance of the NSU program in finding different avenues to be represented on the national level.
“Pennington and (NSU jumps coach Tyron Stewart) have done a really good job recruiting and having a well-balanced team,” Heimerman said. “We were one injury away (in the 4X100), and I think (Larkins) would have been one of the fastest guys in the country.
“But we’re diverse, and we’ve been growing each year. What this program has done, it’s a shout out to the assistants and to the athletes buying in to what we preach.”