For sophomore thrower Nikki Okwelogu, an indoor season filled with success, titles, and records came to an end in the same manner which many of her previous competitions had finished—with another broken Ivy League record.
Competing at the NCAA Indoor National Championships at the University of Arkansas, Okwelogu improved on her Ancient Eight shot put record with a mark of 17.22 meters—0.10 meters further than her previous record. The throw was the first of the day for the entire field and established the Fresno, Calif. native as an early dark horse in the competition.
“I thought she competed incredibly well,” Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said. “To go into her first national championship at the NCAA level, going in seeded ninth and come out with a sixth place performance as well as another school and Ivy League record is just an awesome accomplishment.”
The feat didn’t just earn her another record, however, as the sophomore ended up placing sixth in the field, garnering First Team Indoor All-American Honors—the first Harvard women to do so since sophomore Martina Salander and Adabelle Ekechukwu ’14 both did so in 2013.
Okwelogu opened the day with her record-breaking throw, good enough to place her in third overall in the prelims and advance her to the finals. The sophomore’s first throw ended up being her best of the day, which gave her a sixth-place finish. In the process, Okwelogu was able to overcome injury concerns that had been bothering her coming into the competition.
“I was dealing with some ankle issues leading up to [the throw] during warm-ups,” Okwelogu said. “I realized my ankle was getting worse with each throw…so I put everything I had especially during that first throw because I knew every [subsequent] throw made my ankle worse.”
The sophomore came into the competition ranked ninth in the nation distance-wise after her performance at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships two weeks earlier.
Okwelogu has established herself as the most prolific shot putter in Ancient Eight history, as she has set a new record in almost every week she has competed this season.
The sophomore has made a strong impact on the program from the beginning of her collegiate career, claiming the school record in the event as a freshman. The sophomore didn’t just limit herself to becoming the best shot-putter in Crimson history, as she took the Ivy League by storm as well.
Prior to this season, the conference shot put record belonged to Debbie St. Phard of Princeton, who had held the then-record mark of 16.28 meters for 28 years. Okwelogu broke that record earlier this season at the Crimson Elite Meet with a mark of 16.39 meters.
This would prove to be the start of a streak of broken marks for the sophomore, as Okwelogu broke her record for the following three competitions in a row, including her mark on Saturday.
“Nikki’s progression is a culmination of consistent hard work,” Saretsky said. “She got great experience last summer being able to represent Nigeria in several international competitions and got a taste of what it’s like to compete at a high level.”
With the indoor season now behind her, Okwelogu will prepare herself for the outdoor season, where the sophomore looks to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor National Championships in June and make an impact in the discus as well as the shot put.
Considering her performance this weekend, there is reason to believe that Okwelogu could have an even bigger impact in the outdoor portion of the season.
“If I can stay relatively within the distance I throw now, I know that will be good enough to make it for shot put again,” Okwelogu said. “With discus…I’ve been throwing to a net for the past two months, so if I’m throwing as far as I think I am, I definitely have a shot at Nationals for discus as well.”
—Staff writer Julio Fierro can be reached at email@example.com.
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