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When asked about a ninth-place finish at the 2016 NCAA track and field championships, Colorado's Dani Jones gave a wry smile and a slight eye roll.

To finish ninth as a true freshman, as Jones did a year ago, is somewhat impressive — but not to Jones.

"We were pretty disappointed," she said this past week as she prepares to return to the NCAA Championships. "Me and my teammate (then-senior Maddie Alm) were both in the final and it was both our first time at nationals and it was a big learning experience.

"I kind of got out there and was a little bit in a daze and finished disappointed. This year I've grown a lot."

Jones will compete in the national semifinals of the women's 1,500-meter run Thursday in Eugene, Ore. The finals are slated for Saturday.

One of nine Buffs competing at nationals, Jones is eager to see what she learned from last year's experience.

"I think all of freshman year was a learning experience," she said. "I think the 1,500 is the most tactical race in the NCAA; it's not just who is the most fit, it's who is the smartest on race day and who has a good race strategy. I've learned a lot from my coaches and a lot from just running the different races."

Jones in the midst of a spectacular sophomore year, which began with the cross-country season in the fall. She was third in the Pac-12 and 22nd at nationals (earning All-American honors).

Her confidence sky-rocketed during the indoor track season in the winter, as she won national titles in the 3,000 meters and the distance medley relay.


"I didn't even make the NCAA indoor (championships) the year before and to have won one individual title and the team title was really fun," she said. "It means a lot going into outdoor. It makes you want to win outdoor even more because outdoor is a bigger deal and there's more people in outdoor and it gives you more expectation for yourself."

Jones has carried the momentum into the spring. She won Pac-12 titles in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters last month, and then finished as runner-up at the NCAA West Preliminaries on May 27.

"I've had a lot of opportunities to really test my fitness, so I think (the) NCAAs is going to be a true testament," she said. "It's a little nerve-racking, but it's exciting to maybe take what I did in indoors and hopefully translate into the outdoor season."

Jones said she likes to set the pace in races, but she's been working on how to race with different types of strategy. Because of that, she feels ready for however the nationals play out.

"You really don't know what it's going to be until the gun goes off," she said.

Going in, however, Jones couldn't be more confident after the year she's had, and this week won't be the end of her season. She is hoping to reach the qualifying time (4:09.50) for the USA Track and Field championships later this month.

Jones' personal best in the 1,500 is 4:13.44, and her top time this year is 4:18.55. Given her success to this point, though, it's not out of the question that she'll contend for the national title this week and find her way to the USA championships.

"I think it's in me, but we'll see," she said.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.