University of Richmond women's track and field coach Lori Taylor described junior Megan Ney as the "epitome of what Division I athletics is all about."
The potential to get stronger and to mature mentally and physically is something that coaches look for in athletes, Taylor said, and Ney has that.
"Megan is someone who has committed herself to do whatever it takes," she said. "She is focused, she's a good leader and she's always looking to improve."
A native of McLean, Va., Ney was a standout athlete while attending McLean High School. She was named the 2006 Virginia High School League AAA Northern Region Champion in the high jump and placed third in the long jump and seventh in the triple jump.
Recruiting athletes from within Virginia is difficult because of the state's competitiveness, Taylor said, so there was a high level of excitement when Ney decided to go to Richmond.
But life as a Division I athlete didn't start perfectly for Ney. During her freshman year, she had stress fractures in both her shins.
Injuries such as those take time to develop and need adequate time to heal, Richmond athletic trainer Steven Purcell said. Because of the demands of the sport, Ney didn't have enough time to fully recover and had to compete in pain, he said.
However, during the indoor season's Atlantic 10 Championship, Ney managed a sixth-place finish in the long jump despite her pain.
As a sophomore, Ney dealt with the same injury. During this time, Taylor said Ney was able to handle more stress on her shins because the training program was adjusted to meet her personal needs.
It was more about maintenance than rehabilitation, Purcell said. The modified training plan, which included days with impact-reducing cross-training, gave Ney recovery time so she would be able to jump during the meets, he said.
And jump she did. Ney was named Richmond's team MVP during both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
During the outdoor season she set school records in the triple jump at 11.80 meters and high jump at 1.70m. During the A-10 Championship she won a silver medal in the long jump at 5.76m. During the indoor season, Ney captured the silver medal at the A-10 Championship where she jumped 5.58m in the long jump. She also placed fourth in the high jump with a career high at 1.65m.
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Ney's development and success can be attributed to her work ethic and commitment, Taylor said. She described Ney as self-motivated in a sport that demands self-motivation for success.
So far this indoor season, Ney is jumping solidly and is "right on track," Taylor said, and she expected to see the same amount of improvement in Ney's performances this year as she did last year.
In terms of her injury status, Ney said she was feeling the usual amount of shin pain that comes around this time of year, but said it was nothing that would prevent her from competing or practicing.
"I am just trying to do as much as I can without increasing the likelihood of an injury," Ney said.
This past weekend, Ney tied for first place with 1.63m in the high jump at the Carolina Classic.
"Last week was a particularly hard week with workouts and jumping," Ney said, "but I think it definitely prepared me for the meet."
Ney has the A-10 Championship in her sights. It's a reasonable aspiration for her to jump the school record of 1.67m in the high jump, she said. Ney jumped a 1.62m at the Maryland Invitational on Jan. 17, and after the Carolina Classic, she said she felt she was well on her way to jumping for a top-five finish.
At the Maryland meet, Ney also jumped 11.41m in the triple jump, which leaves her only 39 centimeters away from her individual school record. Last year, Ney didn't participate in the triple jump event at the A-10's, but this time around she's looking for at least a top-three finish.
Ney is also hoping to achieve a top-three finish in the long jump with a jump at about 5.7m.
With only three weeks until the A-10 Championships, Taylor said this was the point athletes should begin to see the benefits of the hard training done in the short period since winter break ended.
On Feb. 6 and 7, Ney will compete in New York City at the Armory Collegiate Invitational. This is a two-day meet where Taylor will send the team's top athletes. Conditions are good and the facility is great, which should set the team's athletes up for top performances.
"After last weekend, I am really excited to go to New York and jump again," Ney said. "Attempting and missing 5 feet 6 inches is a great way to head into a big meet because I have a personal goal without having to worry about the competition."
The jumping disciplines may be where Ney shines brightest, but Taylor believes that she has the potential to be highly competitive in the pentathlon event. Ney is part of the 4x400m relay team and has done various sprint events in the past.
Taylor said Ney was a great overall athlete who had the quality to be able to put together a group of disciplines that could potentially make her competitive at the National Collegiate Athletic Association level in the pentathlon.
But for now, the 23 events at the A-10 Championship on Feb. 20 to 21 are foremost in Ney's mind. The team will be expected to achieve no less than third place at the event, and Ney said she hoped she would be able to make a large points contribution.
Richmond's main rivals are the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Rhode Island. Taylor said Charlotte was the dominant team. The real battle has usually been for second place with Rhode Island, but she remains optimistic that in this sport anything could happen.
"Everyone must pull together and set high goals," she said, "because in the end it's whatever happens on the weekend."
Charlotte has three or four really good jumpers who will be competing to beat Ney, Taylor said. Even though Ney has lost to Charlotte athletes in the past, Taylor said that unlike many athletes who get destroyed by that, it motivates Ney.
"Megan has the competitive drive, and she believes she can beat these athletes," she said.
A lot of people Taylor speaks to have begun to notice Ney as a serious contender.
"You don't just come out of nowhere though," Taylor said, "she's been coming along slowly and now she's vying for the win."
Contact reporter Sarah Blythe-Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org
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