By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Khemani Roberts and Purity Sanga exerted tremendous effort among the nation's elite at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field East Preliminary on Thursday, but unfortunately saw their 2019 outdoor seasons come to an end at the University of North Florida's Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville.
"Very proud of these young ladies," said Tech head coach Wayne Angel. "It was a very long season, and they accomplished what most (Ohio Valley Conference) athletes can only dream of. They certainly are a part of Tennessee Tech legend and lore."
With the best collegiate athletes from the eastern half of the United States in attendance, the margin for error becomes incredibly slim.
Roberts' effort in the high jump exemplified just how slim that margin was, as she took 19th place overall, but finished just two missed attempts away from a top-12 nod that would have sent her to Austin, Texas for the NCAA Championships.
After clearing 1.65 meters (5 feet, 5 inches) on her initial attempt, Roberts needed two tries to get over at 1.70 (5-7), and all three to clear 1.75 meters (5-8 3/4).
Facing an uphill battle, Roberts was in need of a new personal best in order to advance, but could not conquer the 1.80-meter height on any of her three jumps. Clearing the bar at 1.80 would have made her one of just eight athletes to do so in the competition, and would have eclipsed her Tennessee-Tech-record personal best of 1.77 meters (5-9 3/4).
"Khemani had too many early misses, otherwise she would have made it to Austin," Angel said. "She cleared 1.75, which was the height she needed to make it, but just missed a couple of times on her way there."
Thursday's result also signaled the end of the senior's illustrious two-year career in Cookeville.
The first Golden Eagle ever to win the OVC Female Field Athlete of the Year award (2019 outdoor), Roberts' final resume also includes two NCAA East Preliminary berths, four individual OVC championships, roles on three conference-champion relay teams and six OVC Field Athlete of the Week awards. She is also the current holder of four different records in the Tennessee Tech record book (indoor high jump, outdoor high jump, pentathlon, heptathlon).
Having turned in an "iron woman" campaign as a star on the Tech cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field teams in 2018-19, Sanga was unable to complete the 10,000-meter race on Thursday evening due to heat exhaustion.
"She ran a gutsy race, but the conditions simply overcame her," Angel said.
Sanga's 2018-19 season was the best in the history of the Tennessee Tech cross country/track and field program, and arguably the best in OVC annals as well.
Her most notable achievement – winning the league's Athlete of the Year award for cross country, indoor track and outdoor track in the same season – is a feat not seen in the OVC since 1997-98.
At the OVC Indoor Championships in February, she became the first conference athlete to sweep the distance events titles (mile, 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters) since 1998-99, and played a role in a whopping 40 of her team's points. That effort won her the Athlete of the Championships award.
She added another individual conference title at the outdoor championships, reigning supreme in the 5,000 meters.
Winning the individual conference championship for cross country gave her the Athlete of the Championships award for that season as well, where she became the first in OVC lore to win five Runner of the Week awards during a single campaign. By the end of outdoor track, she had wound up with an eye-popping nine total honors (Track Athlete of the Week).
Her remarkable cross country season also gave her ownership of the top four five-kilometer times in Tech history, and eight of the top 13.
She also broke a pair of distance records on the track – one in the indoor 5,000 and another in the outdoor 10,000.
Just a sophomore, Sanga has two more full years to build on the legacy she has already left at Tennessee Tech and in the OVC.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information