By Marquis Cooley | Reporter
For the first time in school history, Baylor track & field had three National Champions at the same NCAA meet as junior pole vaulter KC Lightfoot, freshman sprinter Ackera Nugent and senior middle distance runner Aaliyah Miller took home gold medals at the NCAA Indoor Championships Saturday at the Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas. Before today, Baylor’s last national champion was Trayvon Bromell in the 2015 indoor 200 meters.
“It’s just kind of an overwhelming feeling,” head coach Todd Harbour said. “We thank the Lord. We’re humbled and we’re grateful. It was a great day.”
Lightfoot captured the first national championship for the Bears by winning the men’s pole vault with a meet-record and facility-record jump of 19-5.5 (5.93m) after a dramatic battle with BYU’s Zach McWhorter. Lightfoot is Baylor’s first men’s field event national champion since Felix Obi (2014 indoor triple jump) and is the 12th individual men’s indoor national champion in school history.
“KC had to battle in the pole vault,” Harbour said. “He had to fight, reach down and he cleared some bars there. He had some competition. I was proud of him. He competed so hard, and to be the NCAA indoor meet record holder now is pretty sweet.”
Nugent continued her streak of amazing performances in the women’s 60-meter hurdles with a U20 world record time of 7.92 to win the race by .07 seconds.
“For Ackera to do what she did in the hurdles as a freshman is just outstanding,” Harbour said. “World U20 record and first National Champion on the ladies’ side since Stacey Bowers-Smith.”
In the women’s 800 meters, Miller held an almost two-second lead at the 600-meter mark at 1:27.49 and led the race from wire-to-wire to ultimately win by .52 seconds and finish with a meet-record time of 2:00.69 to secure the third national championship of the day for the Bears.
“The very next race on the track (after Nugent’s win in the 60-meter hurdles) was the 800 and there was a period there of ‘Oh wow, what’s gonna happen next?’,” Harbour said. “We just had some good stuff going. It was really special. Aaliyah’s game plan was to not go out quite that fast. She got a little excited and went out a little bit quicker than we had talked about, but just to be able to hold on off of that pace is amazing. Also, to be an NCAA record holder, that’s pretty special.”
Nugent and Miller are the first-ever individual women’s indoor national champions for the Bears, and the second and third individual women’s champions overall, joining now associate women’s head coach Bowers-Smith (1999 outdoor triple jump).
The women’s 4×400-meter relay finished off the historic day by placing eighth with a time of 3:33.27 to earn All-America honors for Kavia Francis, Arria Minor, Miller and Lily Williams alongside senior Tuesdi Tidwell who placed sixth in the women’s pole vault with a jump of 14-3.5 (4.36m).
“The 4×4 on the ladies’ side, those girls did an outstanding job,” Harbour said. “You have a sophomore, two freshmen and Aaliyah. They are young, they’ll be back, and I’m proud of them. They competed really hard.”
Overall the Baylor women’s team finished ninth with 24 points, the second-ranked team from the Big 12 right behind Texas with 25. Lightfoot gave the men’s team 10 points to finish tied for 18th.
“Hopefully it will springboard us, both men and women, into a great outdoor season,” Harbour said.
With the indoor season complete, Baylor is set to fully begin the outdoor season March 19-20 at the Roadrunner Invitational in San Antonio.