TERRE HAUTE —
Of all the meets that Liz Evans competed in as a member of Rose-Hulman’s track and field team, the one that may have boosted her career the most was one of the few she didn’t win.
The date was March 9 when Evans, who already had won four NCAA Division III national titles in the women’s high jump during her first three years at Rose, placed only third in the DIII indoor championships at Naperville, Ill.
The Engineers’ senior cleared 5 feet, 6 1⁄2 inches. That height felt disappointing, so unsatisfying, considering how high she had raised the bar, literally and figuratively.
“I probably wasn’t much fun to be around afterward,” Evans reflected over the weekend.
Instead of throwing herself a spring pity party, she quickly regained her composure and thought of what she could do differently so she wouldn’t feel a similar letdown anytime soon.
The 5-foot-8, 125-pound Evans made an adjustment to her approach and she proceeded to claim her fifth national crown in the DIII outdoor championships May 24 at Oshkosh, Wis., where she cleared 5-10 1⁄2.
Earlier in May, she’d qualified for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships thanks to her Division III-record-setting mark of 6-0 set in Louisville.
“I feel like this [college] season was by far my best,” Evans told the Tribune-Star. “I’m very happy to do what I did and get a fifth national title to my name.”
Evans overcame injury to capture the 2013 DIII outdoor championship because she had sprained her ankle three days earlier during warm-ups in Terre Haute.
The pain lessened slightly heading into the day of the meet, and she was able to partially block it out of her mind for the competition.
“Afterward, it hurt so bad,” the 22-year-old Bicknell native admitted. “I could barely walk.”
She wasn’t able to rest the ankle that weekend because she went through Rose-Hulman’s commencement ceremony the next day — graduating with a double major in mathematics and electrical engineering — and she attended the Indianapolis 500 with her family the day after that.
As usual, Evans survived.
Then came the previously mentioned USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which took place last weekend on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
This might have been her greatest athletic achievement to date, despite the fact she didn’t finish first. After all, Evans was the only competitor in the field of 18 from a non-Division I jumping background.
“You’re in the training area with a lot of big names [in various events] and you think, ‘This is where the big-time people are,’” she said about her preparation for the women’s high jump Saturday.
Despite her admiration and respect for other athletes, there was no intimidation. Evans placed seventh when she jumped a career-best
6-0 1⁄2 on her third attempt at that height. Earlier, she had a miss at 5-101⁄2. She went out at 6-2 1⁄4.
Only the top three finishers cleared a height greater than 6-0 1⁄2, although Evans placed seventh based on number of misses at previous heights.
The winner, Brigetta Barrett of Arizona, topped out at a crazy-good 6-8 1⁄4. But Evans was only three inches behind second-place Inika Mcpherson’s successful 6-3 1⁄2.
“I felt awesome [in warm-ups],” Evans said. “I felt super explosive. I knew my training had given me this opportunity.”
Evans described her three attempts at 6-0 1⁄2.
“On the first one, I’m not quite sure why, but I came up a little flat,” she said. “On the second one, I would have had it, but I barely touched the bar. But that’s what gave me the confidence for the third attempt. … I knew I could get it. The next thing you know, I did it.”
Seconds after that third attempt, she looked up from the landing mat and saw the bar remaining motionless, which triggered a smile of relief.
“I was soooo happy,” she noted.
Evans said the temperature Saturday hovered around 94 degrees, so running to the bar repeatedly was not a cakewalk for any of the competitors.
“It was the warmest track meet that I’ve ever been at and it was humid too,” she emphasized. “But I’m very excited about getting to go to this meet and doing well in this meet.”
Basically, Evans had a plan and she stuck to it.
“What I focused on was speed,” she explained. “If I don’t run fast to the bar, there’s no way I can clear heights I’ve never done before.”
She also concentrated on herself and not the level of competitors surrounding her.
“I’m more focused on me and my performance and what I need to do,” she insisted. “I’m not looking around and seeing who’s who, even though there are amazing athletes everywhere.”
Evans said she’ll take a few months off from competitions, then she’ll probably return to meet action in January.
In the meantime, she’s become an engineering intern at Northrop Grumman Xetron in the Cincinnati area. She’ll return to Rose in the late summer to start working toward a master’s degree in engineering management as well as serve as a volunteer jump coach for the Engineers’ track team.
Even though she has no college eligibility left, as a student, she’ll get to resume training at the Rose-Hulman Sports and Recreation Center and the William Welch Outdoor Track & Field Complex within Cook Stadium.
And if you’ve read about Evans before, you might remember that her ultimate goal is to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics, preferably in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro. If she falls short in 2016, she’ll shoot for 2020 at a city to be determined.
Now that she’s graduated and she doesn’t spend as much time in Terre Haute as she did in the winter and spring, she isn’t around Rose-Hulman assistant coach Matt Cole as much as before. The eight-time NCAA Division III All-American said Cole and she will still talk when possible, but she wouldn’t mind finding a full-time coach to help her attain her Olympic goal, although she won’t be upset if it doesn’t happen soon.
For the record, because keeping track of all her collegiate accomplishments isn’t easy after four years, here is how she earned the eight All-American awards in the women’s high jump while at Rose: 2013 outdoors (first), 2013 indoors (third), 2012 outdoors (first), 2012 indoors (first), 2011 outdoors (first), 2011 indoors (first), 2010 outdoors (second) and 2010 indoors (second).
“She trains like a Division I athlete in a Division III environment,” Rose-Hulman track coach Larry Cole said about Evans earlier this year.
USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
Saturday at Drake University
Women’s High Jump Senior
1. Brigetta Barrett (Arizona) 6-8 1⁄4
2. Inika Mcpherson (Unattached) 6-3 1⁄2
3. Maya Pressley (Auburn) 6-2 1⁄4
4. Krystle Schade (Alabama) 6-0 1⁄2
tie Courtney Anderson (South Florida) 6-0 1⁄2
6. Susan Jackson (Unattached) 6-01⁄2
7. Liz Evans (Rose-Hulman) 6-0 1⁄2
8. Linda Rainwater (Unattached) 5-10 1⁄2
tie Anntoinette Dudley (Middle Tenn. St.) 5-10 1⁄2
10. Priscilla Frederick (N.Y. Athletic Club) 5-10 1⁄2
tie Shanay Briscoe (Texas) 5-10 1⁄2