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All-American finish: Former Garfield standout makes podium at NCAA Championships

Photos courtesy of OU Athletics / Justin Kaplan. Former Garfield track and field standout Lauren Jones competes in the discus for Oklahoma during the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships on Saturday.

When Lauren Jones stepped on the podium at this past weekend’s NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships, it was a “full circle” moment for her.

The Oklahoma thrower and former Garfield track standout was first recruited out of high school for her success in the discus, having won three straight state titles in the event. Then, this weekend, she culminated her college career with a fourth-place finish in the discus at NCAAs, earning First-Team All-American honors.

However, ironically, during her time with the Sooners, the redshirt senior’s best event has been the hammer throw. Jones came into the NCAA Championships ranked tied for fifth nationally in the event, according to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, while being ranked 12th in the discus.

After finishing 11th in the hammer throw Thursday and earning Second Team All-American honors, Jones wanted to end her college career on a higher note, so she left it all out on Hayward Field in the discus final Saturday at the University of Oregon’s campus.

“I made it (to NCAAs) for the first time, and this was the last time considering my eligibility would be over and I really wanted to leave with that First Team (All-American) title,” Jones said. “It was kind of fate in discus, I think, because that’s the event that got me to Oklahoma and it’s the event that I ended up getting First Team All-American.

“It was meant to be, I think. It was definitely bittersweet, and I’m still a little upset about my performance in the hammer — just had a stroke of bad luck. But I was able to turn it around for the discus competition on Saturday and for that I’m really grateful.”

Jones was the only Sooner to earn All-American honors in two separate events and will end her time at Oklahoma with her name on five of OU’s top-10 lists.

On the day of the discus final, it was raining in Eugene, which made it slick, so many athletes were concerned about falling in the ring and keeping the implements dry, but being from Ohio, that didn’t faze Jones.

“Growing up in Ohio, I’m used to throwing in the rain, so I was definitely in my comfort zone,” Jones said. “I was not one of the girls freaking out to say the least. I was joking around with my coach, and I told him I was born in the rain. This is nothing. Having that mentality going into it, that you’re going to be fine no matter what the conditions are. At the end of the day, I can only control myself and what I do in the rain. The weather is irrelevant and everybody has to throw in it.”

In the discus finals, of Jones’ six throws, her best two came in her first two throws, with her second throw being her official result at 55.45 meters (181 feet, 11 inches). The best throw came from Arizona State senior Jorinde Van Klinken, who threw 62.16 meters in her fifth attempt and was the only competitor to eclipse the 60-meter mark.

“It’s just about being competitive and doing your best on the day,” Jones said. “Because it only takes one throw — in the finals you get six, but it only takes one. Five of your throws could all be fouls, but if you have one good one, that’s all it takes.”

The NCAA Championships allowed Jones the opportunity to not just compete against the best in the country, but against the best in the world, since many schools also recruit track athletes from other countries. The first-place finishers in both the hammer and discus both come from other countries.

That’s something she’ll have to get used to as she continues to work towards trying to qualify for the United States for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Jones finished 18th in the hammer throw at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Although she’s exhausted her competitive eligibility at Oklahoma, Jones isn’t quite done in Norman just yet. She still has one more year of graduate school left as she completes her Master’s Degree in intercollegiate athletic administration. During that time she’ll be completing an internship in Oklahoma’s athletic department, while serving as a volunteer assistant for the track and field team.

“I’m just really grateful to be here and it’s been amazing to see, even in Oklahoma, everybody back home is still interested in what I’m doing,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at without all the support from back home. It’s just overwhelming and makes my heart happy.”

nmadhavan@tribtoday.com

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