Dick Harmon: 'Princess' reigns as queen of BYU track

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 11:13 a.m. MDT

BYU's Mindy McClurkin, the most decorated female track star in school history, practices her long jump approach.  (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) BYU's Mindy McClurkin, the most decorated female track star in school history, practices her long jump approach. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

PROVO — Coaches and trainers first called her "Squirrel"; then she became the "Princess," but when all is said and done, Mindy McClurkin will certainly end her collegiate track career at BYU with another title, one more enduring and far more accurate.

McClurkin is the most decorated female track star in school history.

And that sits just fine with Mindy, one of the most versatile performers head coach Craig Poole has ever pushed through the program. Her talent will be on display this weekend at the MWC championships in Albuquerque.

Set up McClurkin in the 100 and 200 meters, and she's fine. Let her do her specialty, the long jump, and she wins titles. This week in New Mexico, if they need her to run in every relay event, she'll do it. She's a gal worth as many points as you may require, a luxury every coach dreams of. If BYU wanted to press her abilities, they could get 25 to 35 points out of her this weekend.

BYU's Mindy McClurkin, the most decorated female track star in school history, practices her long jump approach.    (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) BYU's Mindy McClurkin, the most decorated female track star in school history, practices her long jump approach. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

"She's been awesome for us," said Poole. "When all is said and done, she will be the most dominant sprinter across events we've ever had and, of course, she is the best long jumper ever."

McClurkin is the MWC favorite in the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump. One strategy is to have her jump once and post a number, and if it's good enough to win, she won't run down the runway to the sand again but she will run in the sprints.

That's the luxury of having McClurkin, who has already graduated and plans to volunteer coach the track team at Duke University next year as her husband works on his Ph.D., in Durham, N.C.

"I just like feeling powerful and going fast to the end," McClurkin said of sprinting. "The longer races, it's more like, just finish."

Poole, who recruited McClurkin out of Santa Barbara, Calif., as a 400-meter athlete, says the senior has just come into her own this year.

"She's learned just how successful she can be when she puts her mind to it and does the work," Poole said. "The rewards are there, and even greater rewards are to come."

McClurkin already owns BYU indoor school records in the 60 meters (7.45), 200 meters (23.34), long jump (21-11¾) and as a member of this year's 400-meter relay team (3:41.20), that won the New Balance Invitational in New York.

Outdoors, McClurkin holds school records in the 200 meters (23.30), long jump (21-8¼) and ranks No. 3 all-time in the 100 meters with an 11.60, which she hopes to better before her career ends, possibly at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore., in mid-June. She joined Porshe Giddings, Amy Otis and Natalie Stewart with the second-best 4x100-meter relay time in BYU history (45.16) in April.

"She's better than the other sprinters we've had here because she has such a great 200; plus, she can do so much with her best event, the long jump." And that includes Windy Jorgensen, a 100-meter specialist in the mid-'90s.

McClurkin set BYU's 200-meter outdoor mark the same day she had her personal best in the 100 meters, at the Mt. SAC relays. Her 11.60 ranked sixth nationally at the time. At that meet, she also won the long jump and MWC athlete of the week honors.

"I love sports; I love to compete," she says. "I love being with people I'm with every day, and I love working hard for my coach and for myself and see the benefit of all the blood and sweat," said McClurkin.

Recruited out of Santa Barbara by many of the top schools in the country, McClurkin would have ended up at UCLA if she weren't a member of the LDS faith.

"This school just fit my standards and my lifestyle better," she said, "but if I hadn't come here, I would have been at UCLA."

When she first got to Provo, she missed a track practice because it was too cold and she didn't bring a jacket and stayed in her apartment. The coaches called to find out what was going on, and when she explained, the staff nicknamed her the "Squirrel." Later they started calling her "Princess."

A lot of sprinters have an air about them, but even with the name of "Princess," Poole says his star is pretty down to earth.

"She doesn't strut her feathers," Poole said. "She is a team player and goes out of her way to help younger athletes and teammates."

One of her favorite races of her life took place in New York City during the indoor season this winter, when she anchored that school record 4x100 relay team.

"We weren't expected to place at all and got in a fast heat with Tennessee and South Carolina," she said. "We were in last place when I got the baton. If you've ever been in the Armory in New York, you'll understand the atmosphere, with music and people cheering. I caught the front-runner at the finish line and we took first, and with that 10 points, we ended up second to Texas A&M in the meet."

McClurkin's legacy at BYU may live beyond her eligibility, which ends at the NCAAs. She has a cousin whom many describe as her clone in Brighton sprinter Aubrey Hale, who has accepted a scholarship from the Cougars. Hale, an 11.85 sprinter in the 100, also runs the 200 and could win both this weekend at the state 5A track championships.

"I have a journal downstairs," said Hale, "and when I was little, I wrote in it that I wanted to run track at BYU just like Mindy. I wanted to be Mindy. I love her. She is my favorite cousin, and I just love her to death. I've always looked up to her and wanted to be like her all my life."

Aubrey was on vacation with Mindy when Mindy got her phone call and offer from BYU for a scholarship five years ago.

"When I got that call, I felt she was living my dream, and now we're living both our dreams," said Hale, who claims she and her older cousin have the same personalities.

"She's smart, but we're also a little ditzy when it comes to real-life stuff. I feel like the coaches are going to get a second Mindy when I come down. Hopefully, that will be fun."

BYU could always use a "Princess II."

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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