Southeast Missouri State University had four individual champions Friday in the first day of the Ohio Valley Conference Track & Field Championships.
But no winner was more surprising than Jaret Willi.
Willi, a two-time OVC outdoor champion in the pole vault, captured the long jump title in his first competitive long jump competition since his junior year in high school.
"Is this crazy or what?" Willi said with a huge grin at the Abe Stuber Complex.
How Willi even came to be entered in Friday's long jump is interesting. Although the pole vault is his specialty, Willi had helped add to Southeast's team scores this year by throwing the javelin.
But Willi injured his right shoulder a few weeks ago during a pole-vault landing. The mishap has not prevented him from taking part in the pole vault, but it did put him out of action for the javelin.
With the pole vault scheduled Saturday, Willi was eager to replace the javelin on the first day of the OVC meet. He opted for the long jump.
"I wanted to do something to get some points and help out the team," Willi said. "I figured I'd get a couple of points."
Little did he know he'd earn the Indians 10 points with his winning jump of 23 feet 2 inches, which knocked off defending champion Quincy Jackson of Eastern Illinois (22-9 3/4).
"After my first jump, I thought I had a chance to win it," Willi said. "I was pretty stunned, but I got the weekend off to a good start."
Willi's performance could help jump-start the Indians, who finished the day second with 42 points, behind five-time defending champion Eastern Illinois (67).
"I think this got everybody fired up," Willi said. "Hopefully this will help out the whole team."
Three other champions
Southeast's other winners Friday, when five of the scheduled 19 finals were contested, were Jay Heddell, Courtney Haman and Heather Jenkins.
Heddell defended his title in the shot put with a toss of 58-4.
"I was excited to win it again," he said. "I hadn't been throwing well, about 56 feet the last few weeks. It felt good to get back up there."
Haman, a Central High School product, defended her javelin title with a personal-best 141-9. And she finished second in the high jump with a personal-best 5-7, which tied for the top height but lost out on misses.
"It was my personal best javelin by about 11 feet," said an excited Haman. "And it was my personal best in the high jump, too. It was a great day for me."
Jenkins, a freshman from Central, upset defending champion Kenitra Woods of Tennessee State in the shot put with a personal-best 47-1/4.
"It's my best throw of the year and it's nice to do it in this meet," Jenkins said.
More solid efforts
Southeast freshmen Meleisa Greene and Lindsey Meyr, a Jackson High School product, finished second and third in the long jump with distances of 18-6 1/2 and 18-3, respectively.
Shelton Scott, the defending champion in the triple jump that will be held today, was third in the long jump (22-9).
Finishing fourth for Southeast were Kelly graduate Amy Arteme in the 10,000-meters, Megan Youse in the shot put and Jeremy Benberry in the shot put.
Southeast's women led after one day with 60 points, ahead of defending champion Tennessee State (31), although the bulk of the competition will be today.
"We had a great first day," Southeast coach Joey Haines said, speaking of both his teams. "We're doing all we can do and we'll see what happens."
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