by Benny Benton
WILSON, N.C. – Barton College sophomore Larry Russell was selected Tuesday to participate in the 2017 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships, adding more milestones to an already standout season.
Russell will become the first Barton track athlete to take part in outdoor nationals at the NCAA level, and will be the first male athlete in Conference Carolinas to compete in the long jump at nationals since the league began offering track as a conference sport in 2008-09.
He already achieved those same historical firsts during the indoor season when he competed in both the long jump and high jump at nationals in March, placing eighth in the high jump to become Barton's first NCAA Division II track All-American.
"You can't have much more of a better sophomore year than Larry's had," his head coach, David Nicholson, said. "He's done phenomenal things throughout the course of the year, and I couldn't be more proud of the kid. He deserves everything he gets. We just hope he can make the podium again next week."
Russell had hopes of returning to nationals in both the long jump and high jump, but nearly didn't make it at all.
"It was a rough road getting back," Russell said. "My knee was bothering me, and towards conference, my foot started bothering me. I didn't think I was going to make it for the long jump. I wasn't jumping as far as I thought I could. I was still tired from the long indoor season, and going into the outdoor season, it was hard for me to bounce back."
The Sicklerville, N.J., resident finally produced the leap he was looking for at the Conference Carolinas Championships, where he jumped 7.56 meters to win first place at the league meet and post a national top-10 mark.
That distance remains the eighth-best in NCAA Division II this year, and will be his seed position in the field of 19 invited to nationals.
"Larry's worked really hard through the outdoor season," Nicholson said. "Coming off a long indoor season, he had a little difficulty getting back into form, but we knew he had the long jump in him, just needed to trust the process. It happened for him at the conference championship, which is the best time it could possibly happen. We're a little disappointed that he's not also in for the high jump, but he's been having some knee issues, so we're going to put all our energy into the long jump and make sure we get it done."
If fully healthy when he competes on Thursday, May 25, in Bradenton, Fla., Russell said he expects his prior experience at indoor nationals to help him produce a better outcome than the 15th place finish in the long jump there.
"I will definitely be more calm this time," Russell said. "At indoors, I was going into my first nationals and I thought I had to be more serious than I usually am at track meets. That did not go well for me the first day. The second day, when I had my high jump competition, I was more relaxed and I did well. Hopefully I can do well outdoors as well."
Nicholson fully expects that he will.
"No matter what sport you're playing, when you get to an NCAA championship, it's always the most difficult the first time out," he said. "Larry and I have already discussed it, and I think his mindset going into this meet – not being his first time – is going to help improve his performance when we get there. Having the experience indoors is necessary, especially given that he didn't have a great long jump indoors. We'll be able to get a second shot at that in a national championship, and that will serve him very well."