Missing track and field nationals doesn't dampen season for Paine athletes

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Ever since the conclusion of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, Victoria Claytor, Baiesha Johnson and Mason Rhodes have been been putting in extra work.

The Paine College track trio continued to hone their skills in preparation for the national tournament. Yet when the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships begin Thursday in Pueblo, Colo., Claytor, Johnson and Rhodes won’t be there.

The Paine athletes all provisionally qualified for nationals during the season, making themselves eligible for selection to the event. But days ago, they learned they were not among the top participants chosen to compete at the national meet.

“They know they did their best,” Paine track coach Latasha Clark said. “They’re still national qualifiers. They’re champions.”

Though he won’t cap his career with an appearance on the highest stage, Rhodes leaves Paine with a psychology degree after graduating earlier this month. The 22-year-old team captain plans to attend graduate school at Georgia Southern.

In April, Rhodes won the silver medal in the 400-meter dash at the SIAC Championships with a time of 47.70 seconds – breaking the 48-second barrier qualified him for nationals. Only the top runners with times of 47.34 or better were accepted to Colorado. Mason needed a time of 46.42 or better to automatically qualify.

Johnson fought through pain throughout the season to notch another gold medal in the high jump. She twice won the event in the Georgia High School Association state championship meet. She then went on to win the high jump at the SIAC Championship the past two seasons. Johnson, a sophomore accounting major, cleared the 5-6 mark (1.68m) to win gold.
She provisionally qualified for nationals with a jump of 5-7, but needed 5-8¾ (1.75m) to automatically qualify.

That Johnson came this close is quite an accomplishment considering she tore the meniscus in her right knee at the end of basketball season in February; she’s not sure when she’ll have her knee repaired. During the season, she jumped off her left foot. Last year, she cleared the bar at 5-9¾, but she couldn’t reach that mark again this season.

Claytor marked 5-4 (1.63) to win the silver medal at the SIAC meet. Like Johnson, she provisionally qualified during the season.

Claytor, of El Paso, Texas, is a junior majoring in sociology with a focus on criminology. She said she wants to be a lawyer in the future.

While Rhodes is done with his career, Claytor and Johnson each will have a chance to make nationals again next season.

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