Simmons, Ballard shine for App State at indoor track Sun Belt championships

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Courtesy Sun Belt Conference/Jimmie Mitchell/Darcey Blair

App State senior sprinter and jumper Peighton Simmons stands atop the podium at the 2021 Sun Belt indoor track championships in Birmingham, Alabama Feb. 22-23. Simmons won the triple jump Sun Belt title for the first time in her career, becoming App State’s 16th triple jump conference champ in program history.

Ben Brady, Reporter

App State men’s track and field finished sixth of eight teams with 60 points, and the women’s team finished ninth of 12 teams with 29 points in the indoor Sun Belt championships in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Arkansas State claimed the team title with 146 points, UT Arlington was second with 130 points and Texas State rounded out the top three with 95 points at the meet Feb. 22-23.

In the women’s championship, after posting leaps of 41-5.00 feet (12.62m) and 41-7.00 (12.67), senior Peighton Simmons secured her first individual and App State’s 16th triple jump conference championship in program history. A Mountaineer has not secured the title since 2010, when Danielle Thorpe won. 

Simmons’ jump is good for third all time, behind Thorpe in 2010, and her own PR in last year’s indoor championship of 12.77m.

“As crazy as I feel for saying it, it was a very bittersweet moment,”  Simmons said. “I’m ecstatic to have secured a championship title and to help score points for my team, but I didn’t jump the mark I was aiming for. Securing the triple jump title left me hungry for more and ready for outdoor season.”

Simmons, a  senior transfer from North Carolina, also earned all-Sun Belt honors at last year’s Sun Belt championship in the long jump, with a third place finish and mark of 19-7.50 (5.98m), which ranked eighth in program history.

“When she came in, she was capable of winning the Sun Belt,” App State head track and field coach Damion McLean said. “We told her, ‘I expect you to be at the top of the Sun Belt as well,’ and now, after three to four months, she’s done that already.”

In the distance medley relay, senior Jessica Dixon, juniors Kylee Frady and Izzy Evely, and freshman Jasmine Donohue combined for a fourth-place finish with a time of 12:05.75, earning five points towards the team score. Frady and Evely also competed in the 3,000 meter run, where they placed sixth and seventh respectively. 

Junior Bridget Kunkel also earned points for the Mountaineers, shattering her 5,000-meter run PR by nearly a minute, with a time of 17:37.80 to place sixth overall. 

In the men’s championship, senior sprinter De’Shawn Ballard broke his own school record in the 200-meter dash, finishing in 21.16 seconds. 

Junior Issac Benz was named second team all-Sun Belt in the 3,000-meter run, finishing second with a PR mark of 8:24.55.  He also earned third team all-Sun Belt honors in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 14:39.89. Benz’s 3,000-meter time is good for tenth, while his 5,000-meter time moves him into seventh place in program history.

 Junior Ryan Brown also earned third team all-Sun Belt recognition in the 3,000-meter run with a time of 8:25.40. He finished sixth in the 5,000-meter run, crossing in 14:45.01.

 In the men’s triple jump, sophomore Eric Haddock Jr. earned third team all-Sun Belt accolades with a third-place finish and PR mark of 50-8.00 (15.44m), good for ninth in program history. He also placed seventh in the long jump with a mark of 23-8.75 (7.08m).

  Graduate student sprinter Jabari Johnson finished fourth in the 60-meter dash in 6.89 seconds, and was sixth in the 200-meter dash in 21.66 seconds.

  In the men’s distance medley relay, the team of senior Zachary Mercer, sophomore Mitchell Harris, senior Sean Doyle and sophomore Ethan Barber recorded a fifth-place finish with a time of 10:31.20.

Ballard, Johnson and Harris teamed with junior Dylan Blankenship for a seventh place finish in the 4×400-meter relay with a time of 3:35.91.

Each team now looks forward to the outdoor season, and hopes to build off their performances in the indoor championship. 

Arkansas State claimed the team title with 146 points, UT-Arlington was second with 130 points and Texas State rounded out the top-three with 95 points.

“As a collective, the 2021 indoor conference championship wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” said Simmons. “We now have to go into outdoor season hungry for more championship titles, aggressive, and ready to outperform ourselves and compete to the degree that we already know we’re capable of.”

The outdoor season is slated to begin March 19, as the Mountaineers travel to the Queen City for the 49er Classic in Charlotte.