In real life, not a lot can happen in 14 hundredths of a second.
It’s a snap of fingers or a blink of an eye. But in track and field, every hundredth of a second is precious.
Those 14 hundredths might have meant everything to Marian Central graduate Abigail Jones on May 11 at the Class 2A Richmond-Burton Girls Track and Field Sectional.
At that point, Jones was still a “free agent” searching for a college after the school she signed with, NCAA Division II St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, announced it was closing because of financial problems.
Jones qualified for state from the R-B Sectional in the 3,200 meters, taking third with a time of 11:35.57. The qualifying standard in that race is 11:35.71.
Loyola assistant coach Alan Peterson spoke with Jones a week later at the IHSA state meet in Charleston. All the questions about her future were about to be answered. Loyola offered Jones partial scholarships for cross country and track, and she accepted a few days later.
“I didn’t really know where I was leaning to,” Jones said. “My mom and I were talking, and she was like, ‘That (split) second (to qualify) probably changed your life.’ It did. They may not have called if I hadn’t made it.”
A year ago, everything with Jones’ running future was set. She had committed to St. Joseph’s, where she would follow in her mother’s footsteps. Laura Witek-Jones was one of Marian’s most decorated distance runners in school history and had run for Pumas coach Bill Massoels, who was, coincidentally, Abigail’s godfather.
“My heart was always set to go D-II,” Jones said. “That was what my mom did. For me, I always thought D-I was a business, and it wasn’t always something I wanted to be a part of.”
Jones signed with St. Joseph’s in November but later was hit with the unfortunate news that the school was closing. She waited, hoping to possibly join Massoels at another school. She visited Lewis and McKendree (D-II Illinois schools) and Seton Hill (a D-II in Greensburg, Pennsylvania). Illinois-Springfield (D-II) and Loras (D-III) also called.
“That was chaotic,” Jones said. “I had stopped searching for a year, and now I was frantically doing last-minute college searching. I didn’t even know what I was doing. It wasn’t that many visits, but it felt like visit after visit after visit.”
Then came the R-B Sectional, and when Jones did not automatically qualify for state with one of the top two spots, she had to wait to hear the official results.
“When I crossed the line, some people said I made it, some said I didn’t make it,” she said. “I didn’t actually know until they said it over the loudspeaker. It was the worst 10 minutes of my life sitting there waiting. It was dramatic. Probably a little more dramatic than I wanted it to be.”
Jones was a two-time all-stater in cross country, as a sophomore in Class 1A and as a senior in 2A. She was a Northwest Herald Cross Country All-Area first-team selection as a junior and senior.
Jones finished 12th in the 2A 3,200 meters at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium on May 20, three spots out of a medal. But more importantly, she was there, getting recognized by Peterson. She visited Loyola with her parents the next week and loved it.
“I wasn’t too interested at first,” Jones said. “I didn’t really want a city school. I didn’t want a D-I school. It was something I’ve never seen myself at. [Peterson] was talking about their program, and things clicked. ‘This is awesome. This is amazing.’ It was such a good team, and he is such a nice guy, I had to drop the preconceived notions about it.”
Jones receives her summer workouts each week from the Ramblers’ coaching staff and dutifully prepares for the next step of her career.
“I’m a scholarship athlete,” she said. “I’m so happy.”