LARAMIE — Finishing in the top 16 at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships is good enough for All-American status.
Ja’la Henderson earned that distinction last season by placing 15th in the triple jump, but she felt like she was capable of more. Performing on the national stage for the first time in her collegiate career, nerves admittedly played a factor for her. Davis’ triple jump of 42 feet, 8.25 inches was just long enough for All-American status while she failed to crack the top 16 in the long jump.
“I kind of was starstruck by other people,” Henderson said of last year’s championships. “We’ve really been working on me feeling like I belong. A lot of times, I see other individuals and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s super far.’”
Wyoming’s senior track athlete will get a chance to redeem herself.
She will again compete for a national championship in the women’s triple jump in her second straight appearance at nationals this week in Austin, Texas.
Henderson won’t compete in the long jump this year, but she’s also part of Wyoming’s 4x100-meter relay team along with fellow seniors Jerayah Davis and Shayla Howell and freshman Jordan Edmonds that qualified for nationals after running a collective 44.69 seconds at the West preliminary May 25.
The 4x100 semifinals will be held Friday night. Should Wyoming advance to the finals, the foursome will run for a title Saturday.
“I’m not satisfied yet,” Henderson said. “I definitely want to leave my senior mark on the track. And just have everyone push us to the next limit and end up with the 4x100 school record. Hoping we just get it together at the right times and the right moments and just leave it all out on the track.”
The women’s triple jump finals will also be held Saturday, giving Henderson her last opportunity to win an individual national championship. Henderson has plenty of momentum heading into it.
She started May with her second straight triple jump title at the Mountain West Outdoor Championships before easily clinching another spot at nationals by placing third in the preliminary with a season-best jump of 43-06. Henderson is Wyoming’s first female track athlete to qualify for back-to-back national championship appearances in the same event since former national champion Shauna Smith did it in the 400-meter hurdles in 2004 and 2005.
And Henderson is capable of even farther jumps than what she showed during preliminary competition. She holds the school indoor triple jump record (43-09.75) and also set the outdoor record last year with a jump of 44-03.5.
Henderson expects a lot more than a second straight All-American nod out of herself this time around.
“I want to win, but (at least) place in the top 3,” she said. “Whatever happens, it’s in God’s hands. I just know as long as I give it my all, I know God will give me the glory.”
Henderson said the key for her will be to cover as much ground as possible on the first phase of her jumps, but a change in her mentality helped as much as anything during the prelims. Going up against some of the same competition she has faced for the last handful of years, Henderson said she was “really relaxed” before pulling off her season-best jump.
It’s the kind of confident mindset Henderson said she needs to take into her final competition at Wyoming if she wants a better result.
“It’s like, ‘I jump far, too,’” Henderson said. “It’s just to come out, battle and not let my nerves take over me. Just relax and just have fun again.”