NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU) - Jasmyn Steels was confident she knew what distance would win the national championship in her event, the long jump, Friday night at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
She didn’t envision doing it herself.
But the Northwestern State junior pulled off a “shocking” victory, nailing her lifetime best jump (21-2 ½) on her first attempt in the competition, exactly the mark she had pictured in her mind coming into the meet.
Steels backed up that distance with three more that topped her previous career best. Those four marks were among the top seven posted in six rounds of jumps by the nine finalists Friday night.
The College Station, Texas-Consolidated High School product topped, ironically, Texas A&M’s Deborah Acquah, and one of the favorites, Yanis David of Florida, to capture the NCAA title. Steels came in ranked ninth among 16 qualifiers with a 20-9 ¼ best mark, which she bettered by nearly half a foot.
With qualifiers from Oregon, Houston, USC, Arizona State and more joining top-seeded Rougui Sow of Florida State, Acquah and David in the field at the Birmingham CrossPlex, Steels tempered her usually confident expectations.
She wasn’t actually thinking she would win, but somehow knew exactly what the winning mark might be.
“It was nice being around top athletes that were on my level. I didn’t just go in thinking ‘I’ve got this,’ which I do sometimes,” said Steels. “I was hoping I would do good.
“In the back of my mind I knew that 6.46 meters (21-2 ½) would win it, but I didn’t know I was going to go hit that mark. I always had the number in mind, so it was really weird.”
The winning distance was all Steels’ until A&M’s Acquah matched it in the fifth round. Steels’ second jump of 21-1 ¼ far surpassed Acquah’s second-best 20-0 ½ leap.
“When the she evened my mark, I didn’t stress about it. I just wondered what it meant. Someone told me my second jump still had me in the lead, so I was feeling good,” said Steels.
As the final round arrived with the lead still intact, Steels remained focused and never got ahead of herself.
“I waited until the end to have thoughts of winning. They weren’t even done jumping and you literally never know what’s going to happen,” said Steels. “I was nervous, after the first two (rounds of) jumps, I was thinking ‘let’s just end it now and I’ll be good.’ But I stayed focused because you just never know. After the last girl jumped, it all set in.
“It was shocking. I was thinking that there’s no way I just beat these girls. They are the best in the country,” she said. “That was awesome feeling.”
Steels was just two weeks removed from her only loss this year in five prior competitions. At the Southland Conference Championships, in the same venue, she was second to Incarnate Word’s Sarea Alexander (seventh Friday night at 20-7 ¾).
“I wasn’t really worried about conference. I knew a couple of those girls could really jump. I got second not even jumping from the board, so it’s not a big deal,” said Steels.
Being on the same runway as she was at the Southland meet is something Steels said she would not have preferred.
“It made me feel comfortable, but I hated that (because) it felt like any normal track meet,” said Steels, who would have liked to compete at a site she’d not visited previously.
Steels wasn’t the only prescient one in the NSU camp.
Head track and field coach Mike Heimerman said two days before Steels competed that he believed she had “a good chance” to win, even as the ninth-ranked jumper.
“You always have to have confidence in your athletes,” said Heimerman. “Watching her at the Southland Championships, she had some foot fouls that would’ve been very long jumps.
“Jumps coach (Tyron) Stewart has done a phenomenal job of developing her, and Jasmyn has put in a lot of hard work,” said Heimerman. “I still think the best is yet to come.”
As things currently stand, they’re pretty wonderful, he said.
“She is in an elite club. They only give out two (NCAA long jump champion) trophies (indoor and outdoor) a year for each event,” said Heimerman. “She is now the best in the entire country. I think it’s something she may not mentally grasp for a little while, and I don’t think us coaches have either. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
The winning distance broke a 15-year-old school record (20-10 ½) set by four-time All-American Stephanie Sowell in 2004. The 10 points Steels scored placed the Lady Demons in a 21st-place tie in the final team standings.
Her performance also gave NSU a remarkable fourth NCAA Division I championship in the sport.
First came the fabled 1981 4x100 meter relay team of Victor Oatis, Joe Delaney, Mario Johnson and Mark Duper, which outran powers like Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona State in 39.32 to win at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium. Brian Brown soared 7-8 to claim the 1990 men’s indoor high jump championship. Two decades later, Trecey Rew was the 2011 women’s discus winner. Steels joins Rew as Lady Demons who have captured a national championship for NSU and became the first to do so indoors.
Originally from Frost, Texas, Steels admits that her early days in the sport were very casual and she wasn’t very good.
“I used to be really bad. I started jumping in junior high and my coach told me to just run and jump, so not a lot of serious early training,” said Steels. “In high school I moved to College Station where I did more drills, but I didn’t have great form. When I got to college the coaches told me I was doing it all wrong. It took a little while to get it right, but by the end of my sophomore year we fixed it.”
Not only is Steels excelling in track, she also boasts a 3.62 GPA in psychology with thoughts of pursuing a master’s degree. She is the only member of the NSU track and field team who is married. Her husband, Christian Hunter, is in the United States Marine Corps, living in Wrightstown, New Jersey.
“The distance thing isn’t that hard for us, honestly,” said Steels. “I’m focused on track and school, so it’s easier that way.”
She doesn’t expect to resume competition for a while, likely beginning the outdoor season at the end of the month in the Texas Relays, one of the nation’s premiere regular-season meets. She might start a week earlier at the UTA Bobby Lane Invitational in Arlington.
Steels will compete at home April 13 at the Leon Johnson NSU Invitational, and again May 3-5 when the Walter P. Ledet Complex hosts the 2019 Southland Outdoor Championships.
But first, there’s rest, recovery, and a sports-appropriate celebration.
Soon, Steels and her family are headed to Walt Disney World.