Dustin Ross is recording a school first and a school last this week.
Ross will be the final athlete to compete wearing an Augusta State University uniform. He’s also creating a first, becoming the first Jaguar to qualify for the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field National Championships, Thursday through Saturday, in Pueblo, Colo.
“It’s something you think about when you’re trying to qualify for nationals,” Ross said. “When it happens, it’s unbelievable.”
Augusta State started an outdoor track and field program this semester, with about 44 athletes competing on a regular basis. Ross, a 21-year-old sophomore (junior academically) who came to the school for cross country, emerged as the only Jaguar to make the final meet of the season – he will compete in the 1,500-meter event.
“It lets his teammates know they have an opportunity to qualify for nationals,” cross country and track and field coach Adam Ward said. “We’re trying to create that culture of success. Athletes can come here and look at this as a place to continue their careers and be successful.”
Ross helped start the track program when he was a freshman at Rifle High School in Rifle, Colo. He learned about Augusta State from his high school coach as well as his friend, Holly Keeper, a former cross country runner for the Lady Jaguars.
When Ward wanted to build an outdoor track and field program, Ross was ready. The Jaguar program started its first official season this spring, though the school competed unofficially in spring track events in recent years.
“It was cool to see other people compete in events like jumps, sprints, throws,” Ross said. “Normally, we’d get there, do our few distance events and leave.”
Two Fridays ago, Ross made the most of the final regular season track event. At Georgia Tech, he posted a time of 3 minutes, 50.31 seconds in the 1,500-meter event to best the provisional time of 3:52. Still, he had to wait.
At the time, Ross recorded the 21st-best time in Division II, with only 20 runners qualifying for nationals. His saving grace? Runners qualifying in multiple events. For example, Southern Indiana’s Michael Jordan is the top-ranked steeplechase runner, but he only had the 17th-best 1,500 time – he will focus solely on the steeplechase. With four other runners also dropping out of the 1,500, Ross climbed to 16th in the rankings.
Ross will have to improve upon his time to finish among the top 12 in the prelims to qualify for the finals. With a high enough finish, he’ll earn All-American honors – another possible first for Augusta State’s trailblazer.
“I think there’s room for a little bit more improvement,” Ross said. “We’ll see.”