In four races separated by just 15 days, Colorado track and field star Dani Jones sent shockwaves throughout the nation that resulted in her being named the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) National Women’s Track Athlete of the Year.
“I’m really excited to earn this award,” said Jones. “Obviously this season isn’t what anyone anticipated. I’m honored because I know that a lot of people put in a lot of hard work into the seasons they anticipated in having and I’m glad my hard work isn’t going unnoticed. I cherish the season that we had and had a great time running in the uniform with my teammates and I’m glad that’s being recognized. The competition was very fierce and the women I was up against were amazing athletes so I’m especially grateful to receive this honor.”
Jones becomes just the eighth woman in the awards history to earn a National Women’s Athlete of the Year honor in both cross country and track, joining the exclusive group of Karissa Schweizer (Missouri | 2016, ‘18), Molly Seidel (Notre Dame | 2015, ‘16), Abbey D’Agostino (Dartmouth | 2013, ’13, ‘14), Sheila Reid (Villanova | 2010, ’11, ‘11), Sally Kipyego (Texas Tech | 2006, ’07, ’08, ’08, ‘08), Johanna Nilsson (Northern Arizona | 2005. ‘06) and Kim Smith (Providence | 2004, ‘04).
“It has been our pleasure to coach Dani,” said Colorado head coach Mark Wetmore. “Her work ethic, racing courage and loyalty have led her into the pantheon of the greatest Colorado runners. It will be hard to see her go, but we know she will continue to excel.”
The redshirt senior also joins Jenny (Barringer) Simpson as the only CU track and cross country athlete to earn two such honors. Simpson remains one of three female athletes to be named to National Women’s Track Athlete of the Year for both indoors and outdoors along with Kipyego and Holli Hyche (Indiana State | 1994, ‘94) after she won both titles in 2009.
“The women I join are people that went on to do really great things and are probably better known for their careers after college,” said Jones when asked about joining the elite club of athletes. “That makes me really excited and hopeful for the future, which is especially nice during this time. To fall under that category is really meaningful but it shows how much work I have left to do and hopefully how much running I have left.”
Despite running in just four total races, Jones had an extraordinary track season. She kicked things off at the Colorado Invitational on Jan. 31 where she anchored the distance medley relay with the second-fastest time in school history. The very next day she took down a 42-year old school record in the women’s 800, finishing in 2:04.38 — and doing so at altitude to add to the accomplishment. Both marks were the fastest time in the nation at the time. The 800 performance would go down as the fifth-best in the nation this season while the DMR was sixth.
Fast-forward a week and Jones was in a heated race at the 113th-annual NYRR Millrose Games in the Women’s Wanamaker mile. A trio in the front stole the camera with an American record in the process but leading the back pack was Jones, who ran the second-fastest time in school history behind the NCAA record of Simpson as Jones ran 4:27.88. She also ran the fastest collegiate Wanamaker mile and the sixth-fastest mile in NCAA history on a 200-meter track. Her performance was the fastest mile in the nation this NCAA season.
One week later on Valentine’s Day, Jones lined up with Simpson and Makena Morley as the three all went after different 5,000-meter marks. Simpson blazed away early leaving the two Buffaloes to pace one another. Jones separated from Morley with a few laps to go and crossed the line in 15:17.11, the third-fastest 5,000 in the nation this season. She also became the 9th-fastest performer in NCAA history in the event, becoming the only female athlete in the top-10 in NCAA history in both the mile and 5,000 on a 200-meter track.