The Eastern women’s track team has never placed an athlete on the podium at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships.
For that matter, Eastern has never put an athlete in the top 10.
Jade Riebold has changed that.
The redshirt junior finished in third place Friday, capping a record-setting season at Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Riebold cleared 14 feet, 5 inches to tie with the second place finisher, Kansas’ Natalia Bartnovskaya.
However, Riebold had more failed attempts in the preliminary portion of the competition, which placed her behind Bartnovskaya.
South Dakota’s junior Bethany Buell won the event with a jump of 14 feet, 7 inches.
All three of the athletes will return to compete for the title again next season in their senior year.
As Eastern’s highest female finisher on the national stage, her place in Eastern track and field history is well defined.
Tom Akers, Eastern’s head track coach, said that he believes she is one of the very best to ever compete for the Panthers.
“Obviously she’s had the most success at the highest level,” Akers said. “She was second indoors and third outdoors. The only thing that could beat her would be if we had a national champion at the division one level, so I would say that those performances this year would probably put her as our top female athlete ever or at least in the running for it if not the best.”
For Kyle Ellis, Eastern pole vault coach, Riebold’s body of work speaks for itself.
“I think there have been a lot of great female athletes who have come through Eastern,” Ellis said. “But I definitely think she would probably be up there with what she has done: her placing at nationals and her qualifying for the Olympic trials and things like that. It is hard to compare sport to sport, but I would definitely say she is up there.”
Eastern alum Kandace Arnold was previously the highest placing Panther at the national championships, pulling down a 16th place finish in the shot put at the meet in 2010.
Riebold’s third place finish comes off the back of a second place finish at the indoor track and field championships in Fayetteville, Ark. this spring.
She set an Ohio Valley Conference record at this season’s conference meet, jumping 13 feet, 1.5 inches on her way to the conference title.
Riebold transferred to Eastern from the University of Georgia as a redshirt sophomore and has been rewriting the record book ever since.
In her first season as a Panther in 2012, she set records for Eastern and the OVC in both the indoor and outdoor seasons while gathering second team All-American honors along the way.
This season, Riebold was selected as a first team All-American on Monday, where she joins fellow teammate and junior Mick Viken, who was picked as second team All-American.
She has qualified for nationals three years in a row and competed at last year’s Olympic trials.
The only thing that remains is to reach the pinnacle of collegiate pole vaulting to obtain a national championship.
But the field she will contend with is not going to change next season.
Ellis said that the competition will only become more challenging.
“Out of the top 10 girls from the outdoor meet, only two of them were seniors, and there are a couple more of them like (Morgan LeLeux) who jumped 14 feet, 9 inches last year. She had eye surgery this year, so that held her back, so it’s going to be really tough competition next year,” Ellis said. “There are a lot of good girls coming back.”
The Georgia sophomore LeLeux missed this season’s national championships because of surgery on a detached retina during the season.
As far as improvement is concerned, Ellis said it is important for Riebold to maintain her mental composure in the late stages of big meets.
“I thought (Riebold) could have won it,” Ellis said. “I think she was the best vaulter out there, I just think she got a little nervous at the last bar.”
Akers concurs, saying Riebold deviated from her conventional technique as the competition progressed.
“I think that like most vaulters, as the height goes up, all of a sudden she thinks she needs to change her technique a little bit,” Akers said. “She was vaulting real well early, and then she started to let some bad habits creep back into her technique as she started to try harder.”
The Panthers’ coaching staff already has a plan in the works to move Riebold into position for the title.
“She has to continue to progress in her strength and speed levels, and I think get a little more consistent with her technique at the higher heights,” Akers said.
Following this excellent season for Riebold, there can be little doubt that big things are to come for her in her final season as a Panther.