Most Cal students can clearly recall the moment last March when they realized they would be leaving their friends and campus behind to return home for an indefinite period of time. At first, people assumed it would be nothing more than an extended spring break, but it eventually turned into a year-long absence from in-person classes and a momentous event that would change the course of history.
The 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships were scheduled to take place around this time last year, with then-junior Joshua Johnson and fellow thrower McKay Johnson (who has since transferred to USC) ready to compete for the Bears in the shot put event. McKay was ranked No. 3 in the country heading into it and hopes were high for a strong showing from Cal.
The competition was canceled at the last second due to COVID-19 concerns, and the throwers were sent home. While students were arranging rides and booking flights home March 2020, Josh and McKay were on a plane back from New Mexico, where the Indoor Championships were supposed to be held.
This year, the NCAA Indoor Championships are back and athletes are ready to prove themselves after last year’s abrupt cancellation. 2019 Division 1 NCAA outdoor champion and senior Camryn Rogers will return to the national stage Thursday to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Rogers will be traveling with a small team of only her coaches to face off against some of the fiercest throwing competition in the country.
In 2019, Rogers threw a career-best mark of 71.5 meters in the hammer throw to win the title of NCAA outdoor champion. At the time, Rogers was only a sophomore. In 2020, Rogers initially took the season off from competing before it was canceled due to the pandemic. Now, Rogers is an accomplished senior with years of experience ready to take on other national competitors.
As reigning outdoor champion, the pressure is on for Rogers to have an impressive performance. Rogers is in her last season with the Bears and has only a few opportunities left to make up for lost time last spring.
“When you’re at that level, expectations are high, but you’re capable of rising to the challenge,” said throws coach Mohamad Saatara.
Rogers secured a qualifying spot for the NCAA Indoor Championships at the Championships at the Peak Invitational, where she threw her career-best mark of 21.78 meters in the weight throw. With that toss, Rogers moved into the No. 10 national ranking for the weight throw event.
Some of the competition Rogers will be up against in Arkansas includes No. 1 ranked Jasmine Mitchell and No. 2 Shey Taiwo, both from Ole Miss. Mitchell’s personal-best mark in the weight throw is 23.24 meters, 1.46 meters above Rogers’ best. If Rogers can throw a new best mark she has a chance at out-performing the stiff competition.
“It’s going to be very strong competition, the toughest competition in the NCAAs,” Saatara said. “What we’ve worked on is being able to execute and get her to the finals. At that point we want her to fight for a good placing to be able to have the best showing possible.”
Sataara and the other coaches have been working diligently with Rogers to help prepare her for the championships. Rogers’ support network at Cal includes her teammates who will be rooting for her from home and coaches dedicated to helping her succeed.
The 2021 NCAA Indoor Championships are a chance for the Bears to try again and rewrite the unfortunate events of last season.
“This time last year we were on a plane back home from New Mexico with the shot putters,” Saatara said. “It was really surreal and now a year later we’re back and get a chance to compete. It’s been a crazy journey for everybody and unprecedented times, but for them to be so resilient and go through all of it with all the ups and downs and at the same time balance school at Cal and compete at such a high level is amazing work.”