Tufts Athletes Win Two Individual National Championships

Juniors Jaidyn Appel and Lia Rotti take the top prizes in the triple jump and the high jump at the NCAA women’s track and field meet

Tufts juniors Jaidyn Appel and Lia Rotti both knew early on that they were on top of their game at the NCAA women’s indoor track and field championships in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on March 12.

But neither knew how special the day would end up being.

In a historic moment for the women’s track and field program, Rotti in the triple jump and Appel in the high jump both won individual national championships at the meet. It’s the first time Tufts has won two national championships at one NCAA meet since Hall of Famer Vera Stenhouse, J91, won the 200 meters and triple jump 31 years ago at the 1991 NCAA outdoor championships.

“Both Lia and Jaidyn performed so well,” Tufts head coach Kristen Morwick said. “They are fierce competitors, but they were also prepared for this moment. Our jumps coach Stephen Fleagle did an amazing job getting them ready to meet the challenge. Two national champions less than two hours apart. Incredible!”

Seeded eighth in the triple jump, Rotti set a new personal record (PR) with a 12.03m distance on her first attempt of the day. It confirmed the confidence she had heading into the national meet.

“In practices during the days leading up to the meet, I was feeling fast and bouncy down the runway, so I tried to bring that feeling into competition,” said Rotti, A23. “Then I PR’d on my first attempt at 12.03m and I knew I was performing well. I also knew that I could do better since I still had five more jumps to go.”

Leading the triple jump through four rounds, Rotti dropped into second place after Jasmine Claunch from Centre College went 12.10m on her fifth jump. On the very next jump though, Rotti delivered a stunning distance of 12.40m (40' 8 1/4"), well beyond the Tufts record of 12.20m by Stenhouse from 1990. Once the sixth and final round was completed and no one topped Rotti’s mark, she was crowned national champion.

“I honestly surprised myself with the 12.40m mark,” she said. “I knew that if I had any chance of getting the title, I had to be aggressive and be super active in my next jump, so that’s what I did. The jump felt really smooth, and I could tell that I had hit the positions I’ve been working on with my coaches all season. When I saw 12.40m on the board I was shocked.”

In the high jump, Appel didn’t miss on the first six heights of the competition, including 1.73m, which was her indoor personal record and tied her outdoor best. Like her teammate, she felt she had an extra spring in her step all week as well.

“I definitely felt like it was my day once I was over 1.70m with no misses,” said Appel, A23. “I had a really good warm-up day on Thursday and felt super bouncy this week, so I went into Saturday almost expecting to clear a higher bar than what I was seeded with. I also know I do well in big meet situations when I have good competition, so that fueled me.”

Breya Christopher from Wartburg College was Appel’s biggest challenger at NCAAs. Christopher was seeded first in the event and Appel second. Both missed their first two attempts at 1.76m (5'9 1/4"), but then Appel made it on her final try, while Christopher and a few others missed. That gave the Jumbos their second title of the day.

Appel’s winning height erased Tufts’ 33-year-old indoor high jump record of 1.753m set by Carol Tate in 1989.

“I believe that all my jumps had the right rhythm to clear 1.76m besides my first two misses at that height,” Appel said. “My approach was a little off for those two jumps, so the last one wasn’t anything special because I knew that my normal from the other heights was good enough. Mentally at that jump I pretty much blacked out, but I was confident enough to trust my body and knew it would happen if I did my typical jump.”

They were indeed on top of their game. Rotti’s 12.40m triple jump and Appel’s 1.76m high jump both rank just outside of the all-time top 10 for NCAA Division III women. With the 10 team points each scored by winning their events, Tufts placed eighth at the NCAA indoor championships, which was their best since 2009.

To win at the first NCAA championship meet since 2019—the 2020 and 2021 meets were canceled due to COVID—made it even more special. Both champions were quick to credit coaches Morwick and Fleagle and their teammates with helping them get to the top.

“COVID has been a challenging obstacle in recent years,” Rotti said. “We continued to train during that time, and I believe that much of our success as individual competitors and as a team has been due to the diligence of the athletes and coaches over the last couple of years.”

“The pandemic has made it more difficult, especially missing most of last year, but it’s made me so much more grateful to compete this year,” Appel said. “Even on my bad days this year I was happy that I got to jump. It’s also made me so proud of my team to push through the challenges and see how much we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Director of Athletic Communications Paul Sweeney can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.

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