The track at Dwight T. Reed Stadium has endured a lot of practices during the past six years. On Sunday, it finally welcomed teams for a meet.
The Lincoln Blue Tigers hosted five Missouri track and field programs for the Lincoln Open, the first track and field meet on Lincoln's campus since it hosted the Missouri Class 1-5 state high school track and field championships in May 2015.
Sunday's meet gave Lincoln fans an opportunity to watch the Blue Tigers compete at home for the first time since the 2014 MIAA outdoor track and field championships.
"It was a good day, a lot of fans came out," Lincoln coach Victor Thomas said.
The meet consisted of 18 events. It began at 10:30 a.m. with the shot put and finished shortly before 5 p.m. with the 4x400-meter relay.
"Because of a lack of teams, we had to drag it out a bit, and also slow it down a bit," Thomas said. "We didn't want to rush it so the kids who do more than one event don't have to run back-to-back events.
"Hopefully we'll have more teams next time."
According to Lincoln sports information director Dan Carr, the Lincoln Open was the Blue Tigers' first home regular-season meet since the mid-1980s. All track events, as well as the long jump, triple jump and high jump, were held at Reed Stadium.
The javelin, pole vault, shot put and discus took place across Lafayette Street at Jefferson City High School. However, Lincoln is currently in the process of building space for the javelin, shot put and discus north of LU Softball Field.
Thomas said the hope is to make the Lincoln Open an annual event. The Open was originally scheduled for Saturday, but it was pushed back a day due to rainy weather.
"I was thinking about having this the same time next year," Thomas said. "But I've noticed over the years, this time of the year on Saturday, we always have rain."
The Lincoln men's and women's teams combined for 15 wins, all coming on the track.
Colby Jennings Jr. was a triple-winner for the Lincoln men, taking home individual titles in the 200- and 400-meter dashes. He also helped the Blue Tigers to a first-place finish in the 4x400.
The Lincoln men also swept titles in the hurdle events, with Rashane Bartlett placing first in the 110-meter hurdles and Kewani Campbell winning the 400-meter hurdles. Shemar Fletcher added a win in the 100-meter dash for the Blue Tigers.
The Lincoln women won all of the track events except the 100. Each of the seven individual events were won by a different athlete.
In addition to running on the winning 4x100, Vivian Akunna took first in the 100-meter hurdles and Aliyah George placed first in the 200. In addition to running on the winning 4x400, Jameaka Mannings won the 400 hurdles, Maria Diamond took first in the 400 and Kimone Campbell placed first in the 1,500-meter run.
Other first-place finishers for the Lincoln women were Melissa Tyme in the 3,000-meter run and Chrissani May in the 800-meter run.
Thomas was most impressed with his women's 4x400, which had thought about scratching but instead fielded a second relay team to run head-to-head against each other.
"I was going to scratch them, but they volunteered (to run it)," Thomas said. "They said, 'Let's go.' That's a good thing, I'm pleased with them for doing that."
This is the fifth meet of the outdoor track and field season for Lincoln. The Blue Tigers have already competed at Central Methodist, Emporia State, McKendree and Southwest Baptist, and they have at least two more meets scheduled prior to the MIAA championships May 8-9 at Pittsburg State.
"A couple of the athletes are looking good," Thomas said. "Hopefully we'll get better down the road. But so far, the good ones have looked good."
Lincoln's 2020 outdoor season was canceled due to COVID-19. Thomas said a majority of his athletes, particularly the seniors, are not taking this spring for granted.
"We have some people hurt, but I'm hoping the ones who are hurt can get back soon," Thomas said. "If they get back, then we'll be all right."
The Lincoln Open was also an opportunity for Jefferson City area track and field athletes to compete close to home.
For William Woods sophomore Landon Dunlap, a Jefferson City High School graduate, he never thought he would have an opportunity to run competitively again in his hometown.
"Absolutely not, but it's good to be home," Dunlap said. " I like running around town, seeing old faces, hanging with family and friends."
Dunlap began his college career at Minot State in North Dakota before transferring much closer to home at William Woods. Sunday was Dunlap's first track and field meet with the Owls.
He won the 1,500-meter run and helped William Woods to a fourth-place finish in the 4x400.
"It wasn't the time I wanted, but I haven't run a race in over a year," Dunlap said of the 1,500, which he ran in 4:21.51. "The goal was to win. I did a 15-mile long run to prepare for this.
"I definitely felt the race-day jitters, but it feels good to get the legs churning."
Central Methodist freshman Sarah Johnson, a Calvary Lutheran High School graduate, missed her chance to run one last time at Adkins Stadium in the Missouri state track and field championships last May due to COVID-19.
Johnson also enjoyed the opportunity to return home to compete in front of family and friends for the first time in two years.
"This was awesome, really fun," she said. "My parents got to come, and since I didn't get a chance to compete at state in my senior year, it was really cool to be back in my hometown."
Johnson finished third in the women's long jump, coming up less than an inch short of her personal record, but she did set a personal-best in the 400 hurdles, taking fourth place.
"I just started hurdling this year, I did not hurdle in high school," Johnson said. "Every race is different, and it's a different experience. In long jump, I'm slowly improving and getting back to where I was junior year (in high school) after taking that whole year off."
Like Dunlap, Johnson is hopeful Sunday wasn't her last time competing back home.
"A couple of my high school friends came by too, which was really cool," she said. "It gave me energy and motivation, because you want to do better in front of them."