Claxton, Campbell Ready For NCAA Indoor Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – For the second consecutive season, the University at Albany track & field program will be represented at NCAA Championships by men’s high jumper Matthew Campbell and women’s sprinter Grace Claxton. Campbell ranks 14th nationally in the high jump, and Claxton ranks 14th in the 400m.
Last spring, Campbell and Claxton both qualified for NCAA Outdoor Championships. Campbell earned First-Team All-America honors, placing seventh in the high jump, and Claxton earned Second Team All-America honors, placing ninth in the women’s 400m hurdles.
To qualify for NCAA Indoor Championships, a student-athlete must rank in the top 16 in his or her event in the country. This year’s championships will be held at Texas A&M’s Gilliam Indoor Stadium.
“Texas A&M has one of the best facilities in the country,” said Vives. “One of its more unique features is the placement of the sprint lanes, which are outside the oval, which is something I haven’t seen before. It also has an indoor field for warmups next to the oval.”
In the last year, Claxton has competed in World Indoor Championships, NCAA Outdoor Championships, and the Rio Olympic Games. This past indoor season, which represents her final season of eligibility as a Great Dane, Claxton helped lead the women’s team to their fifth-consecutive America East Indoor Championship, and the women’s first-ever ECAC Indoor Championship.
Campbell has spent most of his UAlbany career as one third of one of the most prolific high jump ensembles in the country. Alongside now-graduated Alexander Bowen, and current senior Kingsley Ogbonna, Campbell was part of a trio of high jumpers who each cleared seven feet in the event. Only Kansas State had three men’s high jumpers perform as well. In addition to last season’s Outdoor Championships, Campbell has twice competed at Jamaica Trials, as well as in North America, Central America, and Caribbean Championships over the summer.
“Both Grace and Matthew are excellent student-athletes,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “They have been to big meets before, and are no longer intimidated by the competition. Their experience at those meets is a huge benefit, because they understand the quality of the field they will face, and they are familiar with the protocol at meets like this. They are both competitors, and they thrive on competition.”
One of the big meets the duo competed in this season was Arkansas’ Tyson Invitational. There, Campbell placed third in the invitational high jump, clearing 7-02.50, and Claxton placed seventh in the invitational 400m in 53.13.
“Tyson was great for both Grace and Matthew,” said Vives. “Since it was run like a championship meet, they got to experience the indoor protocol for the first time, which is a little different than what they do outdoors.”
In terms of qualifying, both Campbell and Claxton just managed to get inside the top-16 national requieremnt for their events. Campbell was tied for 14th with a handful of other jumpers, but was secure in his position because he had the top second-best height clearance of the group. Claxton’s route to her qualifying berth was a little more tenuous, as she ranked 17th in the country after Tyson. She had two chances at America East Indoor Championships to improve her time. Despite breaking her own championship meet record two times in two days, she had failed to lower her season-best time. One final opportunity remained, but it would mean running a third, hard 400m in three days.
“I wasn’t sure I had the energy for the third day,” said Claxton.
Despite the trepidation, Claxton stepped up to the line at Boston University’s Track and Tennis Center for the third straight day, and ended up running a personal best, school record, and Puerto Rico indoor national record 52.64, jumping three spots nationally into 14th.
“I’m ready for this weekend,” said Claxton. “We’ve been training really hard all season. It’s a big accomplishment for me to qualify, and I feel ready. Those big meets have helped me to be confident that I belong here.”
Jumping with Bowen and Ogbonna has made Campbell more attuned to his own technique.
“The biggest thing I think jumping with them is what you learn,” Campbell said. “I like to criticize the way people jump and I like to criticize the way I jump and I like to hear it, so that also helps me to kind of recreate the way I jump because what’s another season if there’s no growth?”
“Well, they all have different styles,” said Todd Wolin, who works with the high jumpers. “I think that actually helps them complement each other. Matthew used to be slow. He’s a bigger guy, so with him it was just about the takeoff, because he couldn’t go fast. We tried last year all year long to get him faster. But when we went to regionals, all of a sudden he’s running so fast. In practice I asked him ‘can you handle that, can you control that?’ He said yeah, so we moved it back five feet. At nationals and he wasn’t ready for everything because going fast means your timing has to be sooner and quicker. You have to drive that much sooner and you have to drive that much faster to move to the bar quicker. That adjustment took until this year. Kingsley is a speed jumper so he was already fast. Kingsley is more push out of the back. If he doesn’t get going on the back it’s pretty much over. Matthew’s push on the back is just to get him started. If he goes too fast he’s out of control. He needs just to push to get going and then he picks up as he goes. Kingsley’s is all about his start, he gets going and pushes. And then Alex is kind of a finesse jumper. He’s very aware of his body over the bar. We added speed to his approach, but not as much as we both would’ve liked. He just couldn’t handle it yet. But Alex is also strong, and very aware of where he is at the bar. Body awareness is great for high jumper. So they all look at each other on what they are doing, and now we see each now has aspects of the others. Matthew has more speed that he didn’t have before watching Kingsley. Kingsley has more power after watching Matt. They essentially feed off each other seeing how each other jumps, how their form is in the air. They all basically jump the same way on top of the bar, because they all have the same coach. But how they get to that point is very different. Watching each other, they’ve picked up attributes of one another, which makes them better jumpers.”
Bowen was actually the most recent UAlbany student-athlete to compete at NCAA Indoor Championships. He placed seventh in the high jump in 2014, and has been a source of advice for Campbell leading into this weekend’s competition.
“I was messaging him before,” Campbell said, “and he was telling me about all the increments and he was saying once you go there, the environment alone will get you ready. If you’re not ready once you go there, you have no choice but to be ready, so I just go out there and do what I do best.”
“Alex gives him the advice,” said Wolin, “basically treat it like every other meet. Matthew is really good at that, he always wants to jump his best. But he’s generally focused on doing so by doing the right thing.
“This is a breakout year for him,” Wolin continued. “Not height-wise, because I already knew he could jump high. It’s a breakout year with him knowing where he is over the bar, knowing how to warm up now for days he comes in late. Remembering if he’s starting with the rest of the crowd like he did more so in Arkansas, to do your regular warm up which he did and did well. He understands he has to warm up with what he’s doing that day based on the heights.”
“I just have to relax and stay focused,” said Claxton. “I still get nervous sometimes, but I have worked hard to be here, so I just want to go out and have fun.”
“The work is done,” said Vives. “Both of them know how to perform. We just want them to enjoy the experience. Our job now is to keep them calm and relaxed.”
Claxton will compete first, in the 400m preliminary round, scheduled for Friday at 7:20 p.m. Eastern. The top eight fastest times from this round will qualify for Saturday’s two-section final, scheduled for 5:40 p.m. Claxton has drawn heat one, lane four. In her heat is Kendall Ellis from Southern Cal (51.52) in lane three, Brionna Thomas from Purdue (52.43) in lane five, and Sage Watson from Arizona (52.11) in lane six. Campbell will compete on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern, and will jump in 16th position.
ESPN3 will stream the meet live on March 10 starting at 6:25 p.m. Eastern and March 11 starting at 4:55 p.m. Eastern. A re-air of the championship will take place on Sunday, March 12 starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.