The starting pistol went off and Sasha Henry was last out of the blocks.
The senior at Buffalo State had one of the top times in the country and in the final moment that mattered, the NCAA Division III National Championships, she was last out of the blocks.
But the key wasn’t how she started. It was how she reacted to the start.
“I was the last one,” Henry said. “I even watched the video later, and I was the last one out of the blocks. But I remember what [assistant coach Markus Allen] said. What ever happens at the start, finish, finish, finish. He knows I always have a slow reaction kind of thing. That’s what I did and it happened.”
The strong finish gave Henry her first national championship as she won the indoor title in the 60-meter dash in 7.60 seconds at the indoor national championship in Naperville, Ill., in March. It was just the second national championship for a Buffalo State athlete.
“Last year when I went to indoor I didn’t even make the final and I was ranked three or four going in,” Henry said. “I didn’t want that same mistake to happen again, so that’s why whatever was going on around me, I tried to block it out. That’s what I do.”
Now, Henry hopes to block out distractions and build on her indoor success as she builds toward her next challenge – the outdoor championships.
Henry has the fastest time in Division III this outdoor season in the 100 meters (11.93) which, for all intents and purposes, locks her into a spot in the Division III Outdoor Track and Field National Championships May 23-25 in LaCrosse, Wis.
Her Buffalo State teammates are joining her on those top performance lists. Junior Jazmin Dunham has the sixth-fastest time in the 100 hurdles (14.42) and the 10th in the 200 (24.98) while the women’s 4x100 relay has the top time (47.01).
Dunham has steadily improved each of her three seasons, twice earning All-American status in the 60-meter hurdles at the indoor championships.
“Freshman year I didn’t make it to nationals for the hurdles. Then last year I got fifth and this year I was third,” Dunham said. “Each year I keep going up. When I first got here, the first three hurdles, I wasn’t running over them. I would say I was fast jogging over them. But I started actually running over them.”
And building that solid start has allowed her to improve. That improvement, and her performances, helped inspire her teammate, Henry.
“Seeing her get All-American, it motivated me to do better,” Henry said. “I want to be up there with her. I want to do that to. Just like that.”
Those performances have helped launch the Buffalo State women’s team into the national rankings. They came in at No. 24 in the latest poll of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
“This year I think overall from a coaching perspective, the ladies are performing at a high level,” Buffalo State head coach Eugene Lewis said. “That’s what we always expected and I think within themselves, they’re determined to perform at a high level.
“What we’re most proud of is with those performances, they’ve put themselves in a national caliber category. I think they’re doing extremely well. There are expectations and that’s to be the best they can be and try to be a national champion.”
There’s success on the men’s side as well.
Last weekend at the Bison Outdoor Classic hosted by Bucknell, freshman Bumkuth Jiak put up the fastest time this season in the 1,500 meters (3:50.51) while his time in the 800 (1:51.75) set a school record and gave him the third-fastest time in the country. He also has the third fastest time in the 800.
“The young men aspire to do extremely well because they see the ladies being successful,” Lewis said. “I think it provides a positive competitive spirit. Everybody is trying to obtain the goal of being recognized as an All-American.”
The road to All-American status starts with making the qualifying list for the national meet. In Division III, the top 16 times in the country advance to the championships at the end of May.
Buffalo State will compete at the State University of New York Athletic Conference Championships May 3-4 at Cortland.