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NMJC Track and Field Team Honored for National Championship

NMJC Track and Field Team Honored for National Championship  photo 3/10/2017 7:59:34 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. [Story by Jason Farmer, Hobbs News Sun]

For the second time in school history, the New Mexico Junior College women’s indoor track and field team won a national championship. However, this championship is sweeter than the previous one as the Lady Thunderbirds won the title outright. In 2010 the NMJC women were co-national champions with Iowa Central.

“That is big for us,” NMJC track and field coach Keith Blackwill said Thursday as the school and Lea County community celebrated the team with a pep rally on campus.

The Lady T-Birds captured the 2017 title at the National Junior College Athletic Association National Track and Field Championships March 3-4 in Pittsburg, Kan. They scored 121 points, beating national runner-up runner-up Iowa Central by four points. Conference foe South Plains College, was a distance third with 73 points.

Blackwill and two NMJC athletes also returned home with some additional hardware. Blackwill was named National Coach of the Year by the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Runner Esther Gitahi was named the National Track Runner of the Year and field athlete Latavia Coombs was selected as the National Field Athlete of the Year.

“I think it makes this team special,” said Blackwill of the team’s success. “They have actually done something that no other track team here at New Mexico Junior College has ever done, and that is win an outright national title.”

While Blackwill is savoring the championship, he is ready for the outdoor season to start in two weeks.

“We are pretty happy right now,” Blackwill said. “We have our first meet of the outdoor coming up on (March 25) at UTEP. It is good to win the national title, but it is also good to move on and get to something else.”

“We are very much grateful,” said Gitahi. “We can see who is caring about us and are very happy.”

Sophomore Latavia Coombs, who was named National Field Athlete of the Year.

“It is a pleasure,” she said. “It is very overwhelming to see that we pulled it together and worked as a team.”

In winning the title, the Lady T-Birds won four events, three by individuals. Gitahi came away with a pair of individual national titles and one relay as she won the mile, the 3,000 meter-run, and was part of the winning distance medley relay team. Gitahi ran the mile in 5 minutes and 6.70 seconds while turning in a time of 10:11.25 in the 3,000 meters.

The NMJC freshman was also named an All American for her performance in five different events. Aside from taking first in three events, Gitahi took second in the 1,000 meters and was part of the 4-by-800-meter relay team of her, Teresha Jacobs, Cassidy Reddell and Taylyr Jordan, that finished sixth.

“It means I am a champion,” Gitahi said. “I believed in myself and I am a competitive person.”

Also winning an individual championship was Coombs in the triple jump.

“I had to keep focus and get everything right mentally,” Coombs said. “I had to be ready mentally and physically.”

For her success all season and at the national meet, Coombs was grateful for her national individual honor.

“It is great. It is very awesome,” Coombs said.

Coombs leapt 42-feet, 2.25-inches to win the trip jump. She also placed second in the 60-meter hurdles and the pentathlon while taking third in the long jump, and finished sixth in the high jump.

“In the triple jump, I was expected to win,” Coombs said. “In the hurdles, I wasn’t expected to place second. I was predicted to come in seventh or eighth. I was thrilled by my performance. I PR’d (personal record) in the high jump and the pentathlon and that was great for me as well.”

Individually, Coombs led all Lady T-Birds with 34 points while Gitahi close behind, earning 31.25 points. Tamara Moncrieffe scored 12 points, Krystal Sparling racked up eight points, and Hanifah Abdulqadir earned six points. D’Jai Baker picked up five and a half points while Trishawna Crawford got the Lady T-Birds five points.

“It motivates me a lot,” Coombs said of her national championships performance. “It will help me get pumped for outdoor (track) and give me that drive to think that I can make it to the Olympics.”

In the DMR, Teresha Jacobs, Britney Hew, Taylyr Jordan, and Gitahi ran a combined 12:06.93 to take first place.

“It was just effort and being focused,” Gitahi said. “When I was given the relay, I was so far behind, but I believed in myself and I believe in God and I knew we would make it.”

While Blackwill was pleased with the major awards won by Gitahi and Coombs, he downplayed his own individual award.

“I think with Esther and Latavia, they were no doubt deserving,” Blackwill said. “They dominated the west region and the nation all year long. Esther led the 1,000 (meter run), the mile, and the 3,000, all year, which is very difficult to do. … Latavia was the same way. She was sitting second or third in the multi-event going in. She was leading the triple jump all year, she did very well. I can’t say enough good things about what they have done.

“The coaching stuff, I mean, yeah, its OK,” Blackwill continued. “I just think it isn’t the coaching that makes it. It is the kids that make the coach. Their success leads to coaches success. It was more about them and more about them excelling and doing things well.”

The NMJC women had success in other events, taking second place in five events while placing third in two. The Lady Thunderbirds had two fourth-place finishes and two fifth-place finishes, while finishing sixth in four events.

Additionally, NMJC earned 27 All-American honors and set three new school records. Each athlete who finished in the top six was named All American. NMJC had 15 individual All American and 12 relay team members also named All Americans.

“I think our girls worked hard,” Blackwill said. “They had a great preseason and they took care of things. I think the awards that they got are well deserved.”

Jason Farmer can be reached at or at 575-391-5431.

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