By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
Jessica Kamilos topped off an eventful track and field season at Arkansas by being named to the Southeastern Conference all-freshmen team.
Kamilos, who competed as Jessica Jackson in high school at Neosho, placed ninth in the 5,000 meters at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May and broke the previous meet record and placed third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“That was highly unexpected,” Kamilos said. “It was exciting for my team and my coach. It was like, whoa.”
The steeplechase was not an event Jackson ran as a 10-time all-state performer at Neosho. Instead, she placed in the top eight three times at the Class 4 state cross country meet, including second place as a senior.
On the track, she helped Neosho win four consecutive district and Central Ozark Conference Large Division team championships in 2008-11. Along the way, she broke numerous meet records and set school records in the 400, 800, 1600 and 3200.
She said the challenge of the steeplechase helps keep her focused. “I’m one of those people who can get bored running real easy,” she said. “Focusing on the next barrier is exhiliarating and keeps me active during the race.
“When I run a 5K, I get really bored because there are so many laps. I just like the steeplechase because there’s something to do all the time.”
Her results at the SEC meet were anything but boring. Her time of 10 minutes, 10.11 seconds in the steeplechase was the fifth-fastest time in Razorbacks history. She placed ninth in the 5,000 meters in a personal-best 16:28.48.
A month before the SEC meet, Kamilos won the steeplechase at the John McDonnell Invitational on April 13 in Fayetteville.
“I thought we had a great day,” head coach Lance Harter said afterward. “We just had spectacular performances across the board. Jessica Kamilos, first time to run the steeplechase, runs 10:22, which is a phenomenal mark. It was just that type of meet all the way through.”
Two weeks later, she won the 1500 at the Arkansas Team Invitational on April 27-28 with a personal-best time of 4:24.55.
Kamilos, who was redshirted in the spring of 2012 because of an injury, competed in just two events in the 2012 indoor season. Her best showing was a seventh-place finish in the mile at the Razorback Invitational.
“That was hard,” she said of missing the 2012 outdoor season. “My feet just got messed up. I had a foot injury when I got back from Scotland that summer.
“When they figured it out, they got it fixed up. It took a little while to get back into it. I felt like my shape came back fairly quickly, but there was the mentality of it, too.”
By the end of cross country season last fall, she began to find her stride. She placed 12th in the NCAA South Central Regional meet in 21:23.50, a personal best.
“Cross country season was very strange,” she said. “It started out terrible, then I had random good races. I really think it was just my mentality and getting my confidence back.”
The higher level of confidence carried over into indoor track season last winter, when she placed in the top 10 eight times, including eighth place in the mile at the SEC Indoor Championships in a personal best 4:45.05.
In the first half of the outdoor season, she placed fifth in the 1500 at the Stanford Invitational and sixth in the 3,000 steeplechase at the Mt. SAC Relays.
Her season ended at the NCAA West Regional on May 23-25 when she placed 23rd in the prelims of the steeplechase.
She said her plans for the summer include staying in Fayetteville with her husband, Matt, who is pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
“I go up and visit my family often, so it works out well,” she said. “It’s like living with my best friend every day. I love it.”