Bulldogs’ Russell heading back to track nationals

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Barton College’s standout sophomore jumper Larry Russell added to his lengthy list of accolades with Tuesday’s announcement from the NCAA.

Russell was informed he has been selected to participate in the 2017 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships as an entrant in the long jump.

Russell will become the first Barton track athlete to compete in the outdoor nationals at the NCAA level. Also, he claims the distinction of being the first Conference Carolinas male athlete in the long jump in the national meet since the league began offering track as a conference sport in 2008-09.

Russell earlier achieved those same historical firsts during the indoor season — when he qualified for both the long jump and high jump in March. The product of Sickerville, New Jersey, placed eighth in the long jump, designating him as the Bulldogs’ first Div. II track All-American.

“You can’t have much more of a better sophomore year than Larry’s had,” Barton head coach David Nicholson said in a release from the school. “He’s done phenomenal things throughout the course of the year, and I couldn’t be more proud. He deserves everything he gets. We just hope he can make the podium (top-three finish) again next week.”

During the outdoor season, Russell overcame knee and foot ailments.

“It was a rough road getting back,” he 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 leap that Russell needed occurred in the Conference Carolinas Championships. An effort of 7.56 meters produced first place in the league championships and a national top-10 mark.

That distance remains the eighth-best in Div. II in 2017 and will be Russell’s seed position in the field of the 19 invited.

“Larry’s worked really yard 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 best time it could possibly happen.

“We’re a little disappointed he’s not also in 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.”

Russell, who was named Kiwanis Male Athlete of the Year at Barton, competes on Thursday, May 25, in Bradenton, Fla. If healthy, Russell expects his prior experience in the indoor nationals to help him produce a better outcome than the 15th-place indoor finish.

“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.”

His coach is optimistic.

“No matter what sport you’re playing, when you get to an NCAA championship, it’s always the most difficult the first time out,” Nicholson 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.”