From staff reports
Five national champions — two of them two-time winners — headline Missouri Southern’s track and field history.
Triple jumper Tongula Walker Givens and pole vaulter Matt Campbell each won one indoor and one outdoor national championship. The Lions’ other national champs are Kevin Dotson (indoor high jump), Seth Isringhausen (2003 indoor pole vault) and Jessica Selby-Tallman (2008 outdoor hammer throw).
Givens dominated the triple jump field at the 1994 NCAA Division II outdoor championships at Raleigh, N.C. She sailed 40 feet, 11 3/4 inches and won by 14 inches.
“I was already ranked No. 1,” she said after the event. “The weather was good, my injuries have been good. I knew it was my day.”
Ten months later, Givens captured the 1995 indoor triple jump crown at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
After two 37-foot jumps, Givens went 40-2 on her final jump of the preliminaries, and that distance held up to win through the finals.
In 2009, Givens was inducted into the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“My biggest memory that I have or most sentimental feeling is coming into the track program when it was fairly young and new and in the developmental stages,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot of scholarships and didn’t have a lot of experience. Coach (Tom) Rutledge had a vision to build the program, and being a part of that dream is certainly something special and was a great thing to be a part of.
“Just to know that I was part of the beginnings of what has become a top-tier nationally recognized program, I couldn’t be more proud of the university and the coaches and the athletes for what they’ve accomplished.”
In 1999, also at Indianapolis, Dotson cleared 7-1 1/4 to win the indoor high jump.
“He’s a mature, young man and a team leader,” Rutledge said after the meet. “It’s kind of like ‘Tin Cup,’ it’s all or nothing. He didn’t set his goal just to go to the nationals. He set his goal to win nationals.”
Isringhausen’s 2003 indoor title at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston began a strong national showing in the pole vault by Missouri Southern.
However, Isringhausen’s day almost ended shortly after it began. He entered the competition at 15-9, then missed on his first two attempts before clearing the bar. He won at 16-8 3/4, also clearing that height on his last attempt.
“It was a roller-coaster day,” Rutledge said. “Everyone had trouble adjusting to the runway. ... Seth had several clutch vaults. He really just willed himself to win.”
Campbell’s two pole vault championships came at the expense of teammates as the Lions finished 1-2-3 in the 2005 outdoor meet at Abilene, Texas,and 1-2 in the 2006 indoor meet in Boston.
Campbell cleared 17-2 3/4 to win the outdoor title, followed by Chris Turner and Kyle Rutledge, both going 16-6 3/4 in windy conditions.
“All week we were watching the weather,” Campbell said. “We knew it was going to be cloudy with a little bit of a crosswind. We’re kind of used to that (at Fred G. Hughes Stadium), so we tried to deal with that in practice rather than forgetting about practice.”
“A lot of good vaulters no-heighted because of the wind,” Coach Rutledge said. “But our guys were flawless through 16 feet. They just cowboyed up and overcame the adversity.”
As for the 1-2-3 finish, “That’s just unheard of,” Campbell said. “We thought the 1-2-3-4-5 finish at conference was something, but this tops it.”
Campbell and Kyle Rutledge each cleared 16-8 at the 2006 indoor meet, with Campbell winning on fewer misses.
“Right now we’re on top. We’re the best vaulting school in Division II,” Coach Rutledge said. “It’s tough to compete at this level but I have good, experienced people and they’ve been here before. So they were able to adapt.”
Selby-Tallman became the Lions’ second female national champion in the 2008 outdoor meet at Walnut, Calif., when she won the hammer at 191-10. Hours earlier she set the school record in the shot put (51-3) and finished second.
Selby-Tallman won the hammer on her final throw. She was second after the prelims and third before her last throw.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “It was almost like an out-of-body experience. All I remember of the throw was the release. ... And it just kept going and going and going. I knew it was big. I had a pretty good feeling that (throw) was going to win it.”