AUSTIN, Texas – Thirty years and four days after the most recent student-athlete from the women’s track and field team at Abilene Christian University competed in the NCAA Division I track and field national championships, the Wildcats were represented again here Thursday night.
Kayla Melgar, a recent ACU graduate from Tempe, Ariz., finished 22nd in the shot put at Mike A. Meyers Stadium on the campus of University of Texas in the 38th annual NCAA women’s championships. It marked the end of a fine career for the likeable 22-year-old who will return to her hometown next month to begin her career in athletics administration and coaching.
“It’s awesome, it’s surreal, it’s big time,” Melgar said after her three throws in the preliminaries. “I always want to do better, but I couldn’t ask for more than just being part of this experience.”
After throwing a personal best of 55 feet, 1.5 inches in the NCAA west region qualifying meet May 25 in Sacramento, Melgar managed a best of only 50-0.75 here Thursday night. It was the 10th meet of her 2019 outdoor season and the eighth time for Melgar to throw at least 50 feet this spring.
The ACU record holder in the event, she opened Thursday with 46-10.25, reached 50-0.75 on her second attempt, finished with a throw of 48-9 and failed to advance to the nine-woman final later Thursday. Another student-athlete from Tempe, Arizona State sophomore Samantha Noennig, was a surprise winner after she threw 59-6.25 in the fifth round to edge the favorite, Alabama senior Portious Warren, who threw 59-5 in the second round to take the early lead.
“I’m really proud of Kayla,” ACU’s throwing events coach, Jerrod Cook, said. “She was definitely amped up for the competition. She was a little anxious on her throws. She wanted to leave it all on the track, and she did. We’ve been focusing on power and explosiveness and fine-tuning her technique. Our seniors are plenty strong; we just have to be more explosive. You have to be on top of your game at conference, regionals and nationals.”
Melgar added, “I’m just happy to represent ACU. I felt relaxed and tried to treat it like it was a regular meet, but I just didn’t hit my throws tonight like I did at regional. It wasn’t lining up tonight. I’m used to this stadium and these same competitors.”
Melgar was 2019 Southland Conference champion in the shot put (52-8) and first threw at least 50 feet March 23 in Lubbock with an ACU record toss of 52-4.75 at Texas Tech. She also reached at least 50 feet at Sun Angel Classic in her hometown of Tempe, at Baylor and twice in Abilene at ACU meets.
She’s a former ACU record holder in two other throwing events, discus (182-1) and hammer (190-3). She was 2018 SLC champion in the discus throw and this year earned Southland Conference Athlete of the Year in women’s track and field.
Another Wildcat, sophomore Annina Brandenburg, will participate here Saturday in the women’s discus throw.
The last member of the ACU women’s track and field team to compete at the NCAA Division I championships was Mazel Thomas, who tied for sixth in the high jump (5-10.5) June 2, 1989, in Provo, Utah, at Brigham Young University. She advanced to the NCAA Division I meet by winning the Division II championship with a jump of 6-2.25 to tie the Jamaican national record.
Melgar received a B.S. degree in communication from Abilene Christian May 11. She will begin work July 2 as assistant director of athletics for the Temple school district, and she also will help coach track and field at Tempe High School, where she graduated in 2014.
“She’s got so much she can give back to those kids,” Cook said of Melgar after her final competition for the Wildcats.