DES MOINES, Iowa — Southern Illinois University Edwardsville track and field standouts La'Derrick Ward and Jessica Oranika got a taste of the national stage this past weekend competing at the 2013 USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field National Championships.
"I couldn't be more pleased," said SIUE coach Kareem Jackson. The event was held at Drake University.
Ward, a Cahokia graduate, placed 15th with a long jump of 24 feet, 7 .25 inches. He previously became SIUE's first-ever athlete to compete at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships after posting a school record 25-8.25 at the NCAA Division I West Preliminaries.
Oranika, a Belleville West graduate, ran 55.61 in her 400-meter race for 12th place overall.
Jackson said Oranika had not raced since the second week of May. The Belleville, Ill., native who just completed her freshman season set a personal best of 54.68 during the outdoor season.
"It was the first time in a meet environment like this. I think the experience in invaluable," added Jackson.
Oranika said she was not satisfied with her performance at the meet but definitely saw value in the experience.
"It was nerve-wracking because the Olympians were there. There was much better competition there than what you would see at a regular meet," she said. "It definitely showed me that I need to work a lot harder."
Jackson said he was pleased with Oranika's attitude after the experience.
"I literally saw growth from here to here," Jackson said with his hands spread out wide. "It was night and day from when we arrived on Wednesday to when left on Sunday just how she spoke about track and what her plans and level of focus are for the future."
Ward said his goal was to hit a legal mark early and then go for a big leap in his later jumps.
"I felt I did OK, but it wasn't as good as I wanted coming off the NCAAs," said Ward.
Ward also gained a friend with four-time World Championships gold medalist Dwight Phillips who offered advice after the meet.
"He (Phillips) told me to keep my head up. He told me I had a lot of potential," Ward said.
Jackson said he was impressed that Phillips took the time to share ideas with Ward.
"He talked to him about the things he saw on the runway that he needs to correct to get better. I thought that was excellent," Jackson said.
"It was an overall great experience," Ward said. "There was so much talent all in one place."
Jackson said Ward now knows he must continue to work hard not only to progress but also be able to compete at the same level moving forward.
"He understands he belongs with the elite athletes," Jackson said.