Mitchell Shatters Wildcat Record with Exciting NCAA Finish

Her time in the prelims, a then-personal record of 23.25 seconds, qualified her for the 200-meter finals, so she wanted to get a good look at the competition she'd be going up against the following day. 
It was Mitchell's first trip to the NCAA Championships, and though the wide-eyed freshman was tired from her race, she was anxious to watch the others run. 
That's when Oregon junior Jenna Prandini caught her eye.
"I was watching all the other heats run, and this one girl stood out to me," explained Mitchell yesterday afternoon. "It was this one girl from Oregon. I told myself, 'If I'm in her heat tomorrow, that's going to be my focus. Go catch her, chase her down and run.' Then later, when I found out she was in my heat and that she was just one lane above me, I knew I had this. It was now or never."
The 200-meter finals took place the following day - Saturday, March 14 - and little did Mitchell know at the time, but her race would mark a remarkable day in K-State sprinting history. 
On that day, Mitchell became the first K-State sprinter to run a sub-23 second 200-meters. Placing third in her heat and fifth overall, her time of 22.96 seconds was both a K-State track and field record and a personal-best, and it marked the best time by a freshman in the event final at the NCAA Indoor Championships in seven years.
Throughout the race, Mitchell did keep it close with Prandini, and though she wasn't able to get past the second-place finisher, she does credit the Oregon Duck as well as NCAA Champion, Florida junior Kyra Jefferson, for her ability to run her fastest-ever time.  
"I was looking at (Prandini) and thinking, 'It's me and you and it's going to be me and you to the finish line,'" said Mitchell with a smile as she reflected back to the race. "We had a good start, then once we got to the outside of the curve, I just kept pushing. I think it was just staying close with her and the girl who won it that made me run so fast. 
"But she came in second, and I came in third."
Though she didn't nab the win, Mitchell's race was, no doubt, remarkable. 
"For a true freshman to do that, it's amazing," said K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto. "For her to run that kind of time in the finals, it's just crazy. Breaking the record was not even as impressive as what she ended up running at the end of the year."
Throughout the 2014-15 indoor track and field season, Mitchell continued to get better in each meet, and over the course of the year, she shaved more than one second off her season-opening time of 23.97 in the 200m. Her blazing 22.96 seconds at the NCAA Championships bested the previous school record of 23.96, and it helped her become just the second Wildcat in program history to earn first team All-American honors in the event as she joined Markeya Jones who, in 1991, also placed fifth. 
"It was really exciting," said Mitchell about her experience at her first-ever NCAA Championships meet. "But the most exciting part was right when I finished the 200. I looked at the time and, even though I came in third place in my heat and fifth overall, my time made it feel like I came in first just because I ran a 22.96.
"Throughout my whole running career, junior high, high school and now college, I've never ran a 22, so when I looked up and saw that, I just couldn't believe it. I was so excited." 
And it wasn't just Mitchell who was celebrating, her teammates were excited too. 
"I was so happy for A'keyla; I was super happy for her," said track and field junior Akela Jones, who took home multiple All-American honors from the NCAA Championships. "I think I felt even happier for her than I've ever felt for myself at any track meet. She did really great. She proved herself. She didn't let being a freshman and being young hinder her, and that was really amazing." 
Along with the 200-meters, Mitchell helped the Wildcat 4x400-meter team to an 11th place finish at the NCAA Championships. Running the third leg alongside Sonia Gaskin, Tia' Gamble and Erica Twiss, the team clocked a 3:36.59 to finish and earn second-team All-American recognition - marking the first women's 4x400 squad to earn All-American status in indoor program history. 
"My biggest takeaway from the NCAAs was: never doubt yourself," said Mitchell in closing. "Never doubt your coaches. Never doubt your teammates. Without them, I wouldn't be able to strive for greatness. Especially Coach Rovelto, Coach (Vincent) Johnson and Coach Karol (Rovelto), it was really them who made me push so hard at practice. I pushed through the sweat, the tears, everything, and now, it's all paying off."
The push continues as now that the 2014-15 indoor track and field season is in the books, Mitchell and the Wildcats have set their focus on the 2015 outdoor season and have already began training for the TCU Invitational coming up on March 19-20 in Fort Worth, Texas. 
For a complete look at this year's Wildcat track and field schedule, please click here.
Also, stay tuned for another Wildcat track and field feature reflecting on last weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships coming in a K-State Sports Extra later this week.  
 

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