Nikki McNorton soared to third place in the nation Saturday.

The Tarleton State junior capped a stellar season that included victories at six meets with a jump of 5 feet, 9.25 inches to earn a third-place finish and All-America honors at the NCAA Division II Track and Field Outdoor Championships at the Thunderbowl in Pueblo, Colo. Saturday.

"This feels really good," said McNorton, who admits she was nervous when the event was moved up from 3:30 p.m. (MST) to 11 a.m. "When they changed the time on me I was so nervous, but I started clearing the (early) heights with no problems and now I just feel really good. It's unbelievable."

McNorton, also an all-conference volleyball player at Tarleton, was high jumping for the first time in three seasons. She competed in high school but only played volleyball in junior college.

"She's in shock right now because this whole season has been such a surprise to her," said Tarleton head coach Pat Ponder immediately following the event. "We're all very proud of Nikki."

McNorton's personal record is 5-10.75, the height she cleared at Abilene Christian's Last Chance Relays to easily top the automatic qualifying height of 5-8.75 for nationals.

Jeff Smith reached the finals in the men's 400 meter hurdles at nationals and finished ninth with a time of 52.50 seconds. He was the seventh fastest qualifier after posting a 52.03 in the prelims.

"He left everything he had on the track and I know he will work hard to return to nationals next year," said Ponder.

Smith broke his own school record in the event when he raced to a 51.82 at the Lone Star Conference meet to earn an automatic qualifying spot. He won at Angelo State's David Noble Relays and placed in the top three at three Division I events including the prestigious Texas Relays.

"I'm very motivated to get back here again next year," Smith said.

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