Tufts High Jumper Wins National Championship

Jaidyn Appel, A23, takes title for second year in a row, as team takes seventh place finish in NCAA Division III Women’s Track & Field Championships

Jaidyn Appel, A23, won the indoor high jump national championship for the second straight year on March 11 at the NCAA Division III Women’s Track & Field Championships at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Alabama.

Appel won the event with a 1.75m (5'8 ¾") mark, defeating Ainsley Hansen from Wisconsin-LaCrosse and Breya Christopher of Wartburg, who could not clear the bar at that height in their three attempts. Appel then went on to clear 1.78m (5'10"), establishing a new school record and placing herself among the Division III all-time top 10.

Also that day for the Jumbos, fifth-year Hannah Neilon, E22, EG24, placed fourth in the 800 meters final with a 2:12.17 time and senior Lia Rotti, A23, finished fifth in the triple jump at a 12.11m (39'8 ¾") distance.

Tufts’ 19 team points on March 11 gave them 25 for the meet, which earned them a seventh-place national finish. That’s one better than last year’s eighth-place and the best NCAA Indoor finish for Tufts since the 2009 team was fifth.

After winning the indoor title with a 1.76m (5'9 ¼") last year, Appel returned this season and was number one in the nation during the regular season with her 1.77m (5'9 ¾") school record. On March 11 she overcame what she thought was a slow start in her first four jumps to finish strong and win.

“My first attempts at lower heights were barely making it over, and especially when I had a miss at 1.69m—which I know I can clear even in practice—I knew I had to step it up,” Appel said in an email from Alabama. “I refocused and from there was able to basically turn my brain off and watch my body do what I know it can do automatically.”

Appel is the first Jumbo to win back-to-back national titles in an individual event since Caitlin Murphy won the NCAA 800 meters in 1999 and 2000.

“I want to give a big shout-out to my parents and coaches,” said Appel, who is now a four-time All-American as well. “This season I felt a lot of doubt. Winning last year was so amazing and I doubted that I had the motivation to do it again. But I talked about that with my coaches and parents and we worked on ways to make high jumping fun again, rather than making me feel like I was trying to match a certain standard I had set for myself.”

Once she saw how key that mindset was, she said, “my performances improved and so did my confidence. It’s such a mental sport that having some of those vulnerable conversations about how to set goals when you’ve kind of achieved all your original goals was really helpful for me, so I’m so glad to have had that support this season.”

The All-American honor for Neilon is the first of her career. She started the 800 race on March 11 third through the first 200 meters in 30.40 seconds. After falling to sixth through 400 meters (1:04.14), she moved up to fourth at the 600-meter mark (1:38.66) and stayed there.

Rotti, who was fourth in the NCAA long jump on March 10, earned her second All-American honor of the meet and fifth of her career in the triple the next day. She advanced out of the flights with an 11.98m (39'3 ¾") mark, and then had her best jump of 12.11m (39'8 ¾") on her second attempt in the finals to take fifth.

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