Future DI Stars Pack 2018 NJCAA Championships: Five Athletes To Watch

By Lincoln Shryack

The 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Outdoor Track and Field Championships will stream live this Thursday through Saturday, May 17-19, right here on FloTrack. This year’s event will be hosted by Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, and will once again feature a wave of future Division I talent.

These are the top five athletes to watch at this weekend’s championships:

Sean Bailey | Western Texas | 400m 

After running a brand-new PR of 45.24 on May 5, the top sprinter in the NJCAA will have one thing on his mind at these championships: sub-45 seconds. The Western Texas sophomore has shown he can elevate his game at nationals over the last two seasons, first by blitzing a stunning 45.59 indoors to break the NJCAA record in 2017 before easily defending his crown this past March in 46.08. Now, he’ll take that speed to the outdoor oval as he tries to put on a show in his final NJCAA national meet 

Bailey, who happens to be the brother of sprint superstar Veronica Campbell-Brown, was hampered by injury last outdoor season, so he'll finally get to take a legitimate crack at sub-45 at these NJCAA Championships. He isn’t likely to have much competition in the 400m—he’s more than a second clear of the next-fastest NJCAA quarter-miler—but Bailey’s fitness indicates he won’t necessarily need much help to drop a 44-point time. 

The highly coveted NCAA recruit, who announced he’ll take his talents to the University of Texas at El Paso next season, has run faster in each of his 400m races this season. What kind of time will his final NJCAA race yield?

Adva Cohen | Iowa Central | 1500m, Steeplechase, 5,000m

The freshman from Iowa Central has been the brightest star in the NJCAA all year, and this weekend, Adva Cohen will look to follow up on her four national titles from indoors by adding several more trophies to her collection. 

From the 1500m to the 5K, Cohen has dropped one unbelievable performance after another this spring, highlighted by her 9:52.37 3K steeple at the Drake Relays that broke the Israeli, NJCAA, and Drake Relays records. That time would currently rank sixth in the NCAA. She is also knocking on the door of sub-16 minutes in the 5K, as Cohen ran a 16:07 PR at Kansas Relays less than a month ago. She’ll head to the University of New Mexico this upcoming fall, where Cohen seems destined to become a Division I star as she joins the reigning NCAA cross country champions in Albuquerque. 

Three of Cohen’s wins at indoor nationals were photo finishes against NJCAA rival Esther Gitahi of New Mexico Junior College—her average margin of victory over Gitahi in the DMR, 3K, and 1K was just .17 seconds. Although it seems Cohen’s fitness has now greatly exceeded that of her NJCAA competitor, it should be fun to watch the pair square off once more at the outdoor national meet.

Christian Lyon | Barton County | 100m

The time may have been wind-aided, but Christian Lyon’s 10.00 at March’s Texas Relays was still an eye-popping result for the Barton County sophomore. For a man who finished just sixth in the 100m at last year’s NJCAA Championships, Lyon’s win in Austin officially announced his presence as one of the best sprinters in the country. He'll have the opportunity to prove that performance was no fluke as he tries to win his first NJCAA title this Saturday.

Standing in Lyon’s way is a man he beat in that Texas Relays race, Butler CC’s Travis Collins. He ran 10.09 in that one, but perhaps more importantly, the Houston signee easily beat Lyon in their last matchup two weeks ago, 10.19 to 10.27. Both times were wind-legal PRs for the two NJCAA sprinters, a great indication that something very fast is on tap this weekend in El Dorado.

Derek Holdsworth | Trinidad JC | 800m, 1500m

The middle distance ace of the NJCAA won the 800m and mile crowns indoors, and now he’ll be heavily favored to add the outdoor 800m and 1500m titles to his resume. 

Holdsworth showed he was strong last month by running a 3:46 1500m PR at the Bryan Clay Invitational, his first time breaking 3:49 in his career. That strength should mean good things for his 800m as well, as the former prep standout and 1:47 man could put a scare in the NJCAA Championship record of 1:46.58.

Nercely Soto | Asa Miami | 100m, 200m

You’re not going to see too many two-time Olympians competing in the college ranks, but such is the case for 27-year-old Nercely Soto of Asa Miami by way of Venezuela. Soto leads the NJCAA women’s 200m rankings with her 23.01 this season, and her 22.53 Venezuelan national record comes from all the way back in 2012.

Even with her experience and speed, claiming her first NJCAA title won’t be easy. New Mexico JC’s Shian Hyde is the 2018 NJCAA indoor champion and the owner of the fastest 100m time (11.44) among junior college athletes this season. Soto has the advantage of more years and international racing experience on her side, but she’ll be making her NJCAA debut while Hyde—a future Texas Longhorn—will compete in her fourth championship.

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The USA Track and Field Junior National Championships is bound to be one of the best meets of the spring season.