UNO track & field athlete qualifies for NCAA Championship; first time in Division I era

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Senior Stephanie Ahrens qualified for the NCAA Championship in the high jump, the first Maverick to do so in the Division I era. Photo courtesy of UNO Communications.

Kenneth Pancake
Sports Editor

Omaha, NE – Stephanie Ahrens is not a “great talker,” according to herself. But she can’t deny that she is a great doer.

On Saturday, the UNO senior will be the first athlete from the University of Nebraska at Omaha to compete for a Division I NCAA National Championship. She will face 23 others for a chance to make UNO history.

“That had been a goal of ours for the last three years,” Ahrens said.

Ahrens has qualified for the NCAA Preliminary round for three years in a row, but this time she took the next step, and qualified for the finals.

“I started jumping up and down on the mat. It didn’t really settle in until I got back to Nebraska,” Ahrens said.

“We’ve had some different athletes move on to later rounds, but she now has the opportunity to do something that, really, no other UNO athlete has done,” Head Coach Chris Richardson said.

Ahrens holds the school all-time record in the indoor high jump, at a height of 5-10 ¾, and shares the school outdoor high jump record, tied at 5-11 ½. Her success at the high jump has earned her four total Summit League Championships over three indoor seasons, and four outdoor.

As Ahrens prepares for the final outdoor event of her career, she and her coaches only have one number in mind: 6. That’s how many feet she hopes to clear in the NCAA Championship event. In fact, Ahrens is disappointed that she hasn’t hit that mark already.

“I think if I get the 6 feet, the placement that I want will follow that,” she commented. “I really hoped I would have accomplished 6 feet by now… I just have to stay focused.” The senior spent most of her junior year battling injury, setting her back from where she had hoped to be.

Regardless of whether she wins or loses on Saturday, Ahrens is looking forward to one more season of indoor competition, along with her future as an acoustician. Say it with me: “Aah… Cue… Stih… Shun.”

Ahrens is studying architectural engineering with a concentration in acoustics. Some of her love for the field stems from her love of music – in fact, it even helped her in her events.

“I developed exercise-induced asthma after I stopped playing my French Horn, so I think the breathing [while I play] actually really helps me. Also, [high-jumping] is a very rhythmic sport,” Ahrens said. “I’m really passionate about what I’m studying for.”
Coach Jill Sutton commends Ahrens for the athlete’s dedication to her sport.

“She’s really well-rounded,” Sutton said, adding, “She does not quit. She’s probably one of the most coachable athletes that I’ve ever worked with.”

What is Stephanie’s favorite thing about UNO?

“What I like most about it is the people. Right after I jumped, and I made this final, I picked up my phone maybe five minutes after, and I had a text from almost every single teammate.”

The NCAA Track and Field Championships will be held on June 6-9 in Eugene, Oregon. The women’s high jump finals will take place on June 9. The competition can be seen at 4:50 PM CT on ESPN3.

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