Leap of faith
Sterling finds happiness, success at CMU after leaving Division I
Like many high school athletes, Bacall Sterling had dreams of competing at the NCAA Division I level.
The Chandler, Ariz., native had offers to compete in track & field at Division II Colorado Mesa University and Sacramento State University, a Division I school.
“I thought Sacramento State would be a good fit for me,” Sterling said. “Come to find out, it wasn’t. I wasn’t happy there. I decided to transfer after the outdoor season.”
Sterling talked to coaches at Texas State last summer, but didn’t feel welcome. She remembered her visit to Colorado Mesa and meeting sprinter Whitney Rowe, then called CMU coach Katrice Thomas. Sterling applied to Mesa and was accepted less than one month before classes started last fall.
“I recruited her really hard out of high school,” Thomas said. “I knew she’d be a great collegiate athlete and I wanted her to be great here. Luckily, I left the door open and she came back. She’s doing great things for us here.”
Rowe was instrumental in getting Sterling to reconsider Mesa.
“My job was to host her, show her Mesa and try to get here to commit here,” Rowe said. “She committed to Sac, but we kept in contact. She was the first recruit I hosted that actually stayed with me. I went out to Arizona (the next summer) for a meet and met her family for dinner. She told me it wasn’t fitting like she wanted, so I said, ‘Come to Mesa.’ I kept on her about it and she did. She’s one of my best friends now. It’s pretty awesome.”
Sterling made an immediate impact during the indoor season. She has broken school records in four events and became the first Mesa student-athlete to earn an NCAA Division II automatic qualifying result.
She reached that in the triple jump last weekend at the Joe Davies Invitational in Golden with a school-record leap of 40 feet, 4.25 inches. She ranks fifth in the nation with that jump.
“I got out of the pit and saw (jump coach Jason Brenton) run to see the mark,” Sterling said Monday. “It’s crazy. I’m still in shock.”
The sophomore also has the school pentathlon record (3,454 points). The pentathlon consists of the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 run. The five events all take place the same day.
She beat her previous pentathlon school record by 304 points in the Bird and Bees Invitational on Feb. 8. In the same meet, she set school records in the long jump (17-3) and high jump (5-2.25).
“Coming in, I wanted to break some school records and raise the bar a little bit,” Sterling said. “I can still see myself improving every day and every meet we go to. I love the school. It’s been a good transition.”
Rowe has since reclaimed the long jump record and Quincey Pedersen broke Sterling’s high jump mark.
“The first thing (Rowe) said to me after she jumped was, ‘I got the record back,’ ” Sterling said. “It’s kind of a competition for us.”
Rowe welcomes the competition from her new friend and teammate.
“We’ll be fighting for that long jump at conference, then outdoors, but she’s only pushing me to be a better athlete,” Rowe said. “If that means she takes my record, she takes my record.”
Although Sterling hoped to have this kind of success right away, it still came as a surprise.
“I didn’t expect for it to be like this big,” Sterling said of her success. “It’s kind of surreal. People have been asking me how it feels. It’s all happening so fast.”
The Mavericks compete in the RMAC championships this weekend in Alamosa.
“We’re excited,” Thomas said. “The RMAC has us placed low on both the men’s and women’s side. They seem to do that to us every year, but it gives us fire going into the meet. We’ll go in there and try to turn some heads.”
Sterling realizes competing at the Division II level isn’t so bad.
“In high school, you want to go DI because it’s the thing,” Sterling said. “I think people put down D2 because it’s not as big, but honestly, D2 is more one-on-one with the coaches.
“DI it’s kind of like that, but not as much. There is competition everywhere. I was kind of scared coming to D2, but every meet we’ve been to there is a lot of competition. You’re here to get better and try to make it to nationals.
“I feel so much more comfortable with these coaches. Division I is more business.
“I love it so much. I’m so glad I transferred. The coaches have been amazing. I love the team.
“I feel like the coaches care about the athletes and how you’re feeling.”