ACU sent only four athletes to Albuquerque in hopes of maybe winning one or two individual events. What they left with was something far greater than anyone expected.
Ramon Sparks, Desmond Jackson, Nick Jones and Amos Sang each placed in the top four in their events to win ACU its 56th overall NCAA national championship, and its 13th men’s NCAA Indoor Championship.
“It feels awesome to call myself a national champion. Like it’s so hard to even put it into words,” said Jackson. “The championship was definitely a surprise though, I must admit. We weren’t expecting to win, but are thrilled about the way things turned out, obviously. This feat shows that all things are possible and that God is good.”
The four athletes were only slated to compete in six events, and, with the winner in each event getting ten points, the maximum the ‘Cats could garner was 60 points.
“We might have been the smallest group there, but no doubt we were the loudest team in the stands,” Jones said.
Coach Roosevelt Lofton told the Wildcats to go out and try to get all 60.
Saturday started exactly the way Lofton asked. Sparks, the reigning national champion in the triple jump, went out and jumped 53 feet on his second try, his longest jump of his indoor career. No other athlete came within 18 inches of the that jump the rest of the day, and Sparks took home his second triple jump championship and ten team points.
As Sparks was competing his event, shot putter Nick Jones began his. Jones also set a career mark for the indoor shot put. He threw three times over his previous best, including a high mark of 59 feet 10 and a half inches. That throw was good enough for fourth and five points toward a national championship.
“I haven’t been this happy in a very long time,” Jones said. “Feelings of pride, optimism, and humbleness have encompassed me all day. To win a National Championship, especially indoors, where we’ve struggled in years past, is so gratifying.”
Then the events moved to the track. Senior Amos Sang competed in the mile, and, as he has done his entire ACU career, came through when ACU needed him. He finished a close second and won ACU eight team points.
It was Desmond Jackson’s turn after Sang. Jackson lost in the 60 meter dash by .02 seconds, but it didn’t matter as he got the Wildcats another eight points. Jackson’s second event was the 200 meter dash. Again, Jackson finished a close second and again the sprinter secured ACU another eight points.
“I felt good about both of my times, I PR’d in both events, so that was cool,” Jackson said. “I didn’t win, but I did all I could to put the team in the right position to come out on top.”
Jackson’s 16 team points put ACU in the overall lead by one point over second place Lincoln University (Mo.) with only two events remaining, the 4×400 relay and the 5000 meters.
“The atmosphere was electric. There were two more races after the 200, and we knew we were still in it despite our low number of participants,” Jackson said. “We all started crunching the numbers and were like, we could do this.”
Sang, scheduled to compete in the 5000 meters, was ACU’s last hope to capture the most unlikeliest of national championships. All Sang had to do was win. He delivered, running the 5000 in a time of 14:37:08, winning by eight seconds.
“I’ll be honest, I started texting people that we won a National Championship before Amos’s race because I knew he’d come through,” Jones said. “Amos is so clutch, probably one of the best runners in the U.S. I’d want no one else competing with a championship on the line.”
The ten points gave ACU 49 for the meet and 11 more than Lincoln. Even if Lincoln placed first in the relay, ACU would still have won.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling and such a blessing to be a part of this championship team,” Jackson said.
ACU, with 56 championships, sits in 5th among all NCAA schools in overall team championships behind Division I universities UCLA, Stanford, and USC and Division III Kenyon College.