Carleton sophomore Amelia Campbell followed up her indoor pentathlon national title with a come-from-behind victory in the heptathlon at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She finished with 5,221 points, ranking her third all-time in Division III history.
Campbell entered the national meet as the top seed in the seven-event heptathlon, but she needed new personal bests on the final two events—the javelin throw and 800-meter run—as she erased a 20-point deficit and secured the victory, making her the fifth woman in NCAA history to win a national title in both the pentathlon and heptathlon in the same year and only the second to do so a the Division III level.
This year’s event featured an extremely competitive field. Each of the top four finishers at this year’s NCAA Championship posted career-best point totals that rank them among the top 10 all-time in Division III history. Jessika Smith of University of Wisconsin-Stout was the runner up with 5,170 points. Defending champion Elizabeth Krug of Hendrix College was third after totaling 5,074 points, and Allie Boudreau of Illinois Wesleyan finished fourth at 5,033 points.
Smith’s 20-point lead heading into the 800-meter run equated to about a two-second buffer. She posted a career-best time of her own, but Campbell’s personal record 800-meter time (2:15.38) was still more than five seconds better than Smith’s, completing the comeback for Campbell.
Campbell entered the NCAA Championships as the favorite. After all, she won the indoor pentathlon and had posted the best heptathlon score in the country—5,132 points at the MIAC Heptathlon—this year.
“I had the usual pre-heptathlon nerves,” Campbell said. “Going in, I knew I was seeded well but having those expectations made me kind of nervous.”
If she was nervous, Campbell did not show it as she opened Thursday’s portion of the competition with a first-place tie in the 100-meter hurdles as both she and Jocelyn Redlinski of North Central registered times of 14.443 seconds.
Upon moving to the high jump, Campbell cleared 1.66 meters (5 feet, 5.25 inches) for a new outdoor personal best. That result was second in the 22-person field and gave Campbell a slim five-point lead over Charity Arn of George Fox.
“High jump was another one where I was nervous,” Campbell said. “In practice I haven’t been doing as well as I’d like. I started thinking about having a good plant, knee drive and focusing on jumping high.”
Campbell transitioned to the shot put and recorded a distance of 11.43 meters (37 feet, 6 inches) on her first try. That was more than 10 inches better than her previous outdoor best. Although she placed sixth in that event, Campbell still increased her lead to 79 points.
“I had done a lot of technique work on the shot put since conference. I felt good about that first throw.
“The thing about the heptathlon is that if you start thinking about point totals, then you stop focusing on technique.”
The first day concluded with a new personal record for Campbell in the 200-meter dash. She reached the line at 25.30, taking more than a tenth of a second off her previous best. Campbell’s lead in the points chase grew to 110 over Krug.
“I was excited about the 200 since my times have been coming down,” Campbell said. “I was fast out of the blocks and had an inside lane. That’s preferable for me because I like to chase people down.”
Friday’s action began with the long jump, which did not go quite according to plan. While Campbell registered a solid leap of 5.13 meters (16 feet, 10 inches) on her first attempt, it was slightly below her recent performance level. Things got more tense as the red flag indicating a foul went up on both her second and third jumps.
“That’s when I started to get nervous again because I really rely on the long jump to get me points. Coach Donna Ricks reassured me and said, ‘This is when the champion in you is going to come out.’“
“I think the biggest thing is that she had to overcome adversity,” said Ricks. “Everyone asks me what Amelia has improved the most. It’s her mental toughness.”
Campbell still held a 115-point lead heading into the final two events, but as expected that margin dwindled during the javelin, an event in which Smith held a distinct advantage.
Campbell stepped up and delivered a career-best toss of 33.07 meters (108 feet, 6 inches) on her first attempt, but Smith also registered a new personal record, measuring more than 40 meters and giving the UW-Stout senior a 20-point lead heading into the final event, the dreaded 800-meter run.
That meant that Campbell would have to beat Smith by about a two seconds to win the heptathlon title.
“Prior to the race, Allie Boudreau of Illinois Wesleyan told me that she wanted to run a 2:13 and wanted me to push her,” said Campbell. “She told me ‘Let’s really help each other. I want you breathing down my neck the whole race.’ That’s just what I did.”
Campbell was running at exactly the pace she wanted at the race’s midpoint, but with about 200 meters left, she heard someone yell, “Jess, she’s dying. You gotta go.”
“That’s when I realized they were talking about me,” Campbell said. “I turned it on and gave it everything I could. I didn’t know where (Smith) was or how far she was behind me until I looked up and saw the final results.”
Thanks to her work with Boudreau down the final straightway, Amelia went on to post a new personal best time of 2:15.38 in the 800-meter race. “I don’t think Amelia could have run another 20 meters,” said Ricks. “It’s a good thing that she didn’t have to.”
Having been a national champion already once this year, Campbell admits that this title set in a little quicker than her pentathlon crown.
Senior Kao Sutton followed Campbell to became the second Knights’ student-athlete to be crowned a national champion in as many days after she claimed the top spot in the discus throw on the final day at the Championships.
“It’s incredible,” Sutton said. “I can’t imagine a better way to end my career.”
Sutton opened the competition with a heave of 46.42 meters, shy of her previous career best by more than 11 inches, but a significant improvement over her winning toss at the MIAC Championships earlier this month. Sutton was unable to improve upon that distance on her next two attempts and sat third after the preliminary round.
The first of her three tosses during Saturday’s finals measured a school-record 47.31 meters (155 feet, 2 inches). That distance stood up, making her the first Carleton Knight—male or female—to claim a national title in the event.
“I knew that it felt really good technically,” Sutton said of the winning toss. “Throughout the entire day things were just clicking. My footwork, my pull. Everything just felt really good. I knew it was going to be a good day, I knew it was going to be a good day for a PR.”
Lindsey Thomas of Carroll University (Wisconsin) finished second overall in the discus at 47.16 meters, followed by top-seeded Breanna Strupp of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh at 46.46 meters.
Sutton ended up recording six of the top eight throws of her career on Saturday. Her national title came nearly 24 hours after Campbell. Those two results plus Colette Celichowski’s ‘15 All-America performance in the 1500-meter run helped Carleton finish in a tie for eighth place in the team standings, the program’s best finish ever at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
This was Sutton’s second trip to nationals this school year as she earned All-American honors with a fourth-place finish in the shot put at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.