Des Moines, Iowa The night before the 400 finals, Diamond Dixon picked up the notepad in her hotel room and started writing notes to herself.
“You can do it.”
“Finish as fast as you can.”
“Work the curve.”
Fifteen minutes later, the Kansas University sophomore had filled up three pages’ worth of Hilton Garden Inn stationery.
Only one of the notes, though, was on her mind as she lined up for the 400 finals Friday at the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Drake Stadium: “Relax, relax, relax.”
“That’s what I kept playing in my head,” Dixon said, “but I guess my body just wasn’t reacting.”
For the first time ever before the start of a race, Dixon felt her whole body shaking. Her heart was pounding, and she had troubles slowing it down.
With her nerves taking over, Dixon — who was hoping to set a personal record — ended up settling for a third-place showing in the 400 in 51.59 seconds.
The NCAA’s indoor champion in the 400 was seeded second coming into the event based on regional times.
Illinois freshman Ashley Spencer won the event in 50.95. Dixon tried to make up some ground on the final stretch but didn’t feel like she was able to get her full kick in until the final 60 meters.
By then, it was too late to catch Spencer and LSU’s Rebecca Alexander, who ran a 51.20.
“We needed those points in the 400, but that’s my fault,” Dixon said. “I’ll take the blame for that, and hopefully we’ll still have a good place in the end.”
The third-place finish added six team points to the KU women’s total, but it also likely ended any hopes the Jayhawks had at being in the running for a national championship.
Following 14 events out of 21, KU is in a tie for fifth place with Tennessee with 21 points. LSU and Oregon are tied for first with 40 points, while Oklahoma is third (24 points) and Stanford fourth (22).
KU senior Rebeka Stowe added one team point, finishing eighth in the 3,000 steeplechase in 10:12.16.
The Olathe native was disappointed that she didn’t stay with the lead group when it broke away halfway through the race.
“You have to make a decision if you’re going to hurt a little bit more to go with it and deal with that pain as you go, or are you going to crack under that and say, ‘Oh, it’s all right, right here,’” Stowe said. “ ... I just didn’t really make the decisions when they needed to be (made). They weren’t convictions. They weren’t deep down, like, ‘I’m doing this no matter what.’”
Before the final lap, Stowe heard someone in the crowd yell to her that she was in 10th place and needed to chase down two competitors to become an All-American.
The senior did just that, though her time still was more than 10 seconds off her regional showing (10:01.06).
“I let it go a little bit in the middle there. It needs to be better,” Stowe said. “It sucks to have it happen today. That’s an error that I can control.”
Michael Stigler also earned All-American status after finishing sixth in the 400 hurdles in 50.41.
The Big 12 champion was one of only two freshmen who made it to the finals.
“I felt really good. I got out and ran my race,” Stigler said. “It didn’t happen for me today — I didn’t get top-three — but sixth as a freshman ... I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Stigler, who had the fifth-best regional time coming in at 49.91 seconds, believed afterward that he could have attacked the hurdles a bit harder. Starting with the second hurdle, he used some additional stutter-steps to make sure he cleared each barrier.
“I can’t be mad at myself,” Stigler said. “I’m just blessed to be here. It’s a great feeling.”
Stigler’s showing helped the KU men remain in a tie for 18th place with 11 team points following 14 events.
KU’s only other competitor Friday was freshman Lindsay Vollmer, who finished 18th in the heptathlon with 5,336 points. She was the first KU woman in 13 years to compete in the event at the NCAA championships.
Coach Stanley Redwine admitted it was going to be tough for the KU women to catch LSU and Oregon, but he still was optimistic his team could win a trophy with a top-four team total.
“I feel good that people in (today’s) competitions can score well,” Redwine said.
That includes Andrea Geubelle, who is the top seed in the triple jump based on regional marks. Paris Daniels also had the third-best preliminary time in the 200 Thursday.
Also competing today will be the KU women’s 4X400 relay team of Denesha Morris, Daniels, Taylor Washington and Dixon and Mason Finley in the shot put.