COLUMN: Nicole Greene's title means big things for UNC. Could it spark even more for her?

COLUMN: Nicole Greene's title means big things for UNC. Could it spark even more for her?

Recently, I wrote a story about the rise of Nicole Greene. A few hours after that story ran, Greene won the NCAA Indoor National Championship in the high jump. Since she won, I’ve noticed a whole lot more attention paid to track and field at UNC. So, I wanted to dive deeper into her win – specifically, what it means for the future.

First of all, the win was the first individual national title for UNC Track & Field since 2007 when the Heels took the title in the indoor women’s DMR (distance medley relay), indoor women’s 1,500 meter, and the outdoor men’s javelin. The first win in over a decade is one that opens the door to recruiting, arguably not seen since the post-Shalane Flanagan era in the mid-2000s.

Second, Nicole Greene’s huge year thus far sets her up for an even bigger showing when she returns from a redshirt year for the 2019 outdoors season. Look for Greene to make a run at the school record of 6-foot-3 1/2 set by Tisha Waller in 1992 (later tied by Sheena Gordon in 2005). Greene’s indoor PR (personal record) of 6-foot-2 was a massive improvement over last year and bodes well for a major leap from her 5-foot-11 1/2 outdoor PR.  Expect Greene to be a heavy favorite to defend her indoor crown in the outdoor season.

So, yes, the NCAA title is big for Greene, and UNC, in the college landscape, but it is so, so much more than that. The Olympic high jump standard for Rio in 2016 was 1.93 meters, or 6-foot-4. If Greene were to hit that mark in the first few months of 2019, odds are she would have the standard for the 2020 games as well. To simply make it to the United States trials for 2020, Greene is looking at only needing a jump of 6-foot-0 3/4, which is more than doable for her. If she gets to those trials, don’t count Greene out – in 2016, 6-foot-4 was good enough to secure the final berth on the US high jump team for Inika McPhearson. 6-foot-4 is within Greene’s skill level, and with two more years to hit it, I think Greene would be a safe bet to be jumping at Mt. SAC for the olympic trials.

But can Greene get to the Olympics from there? The short answer is maybe. Greene has had struggles jumping outdoors in the past. However, Greene is a championship performer – she loves the competition and could make a serious run at it if she gets to Mt. SAC. For instance, Logan Boss of Mississippi State has a PR 2-inches higher than that of Greene, but Greene knocked Boss out into 3rd place before going on to win the title in an absolutely remarkable seven round jump-off with Loretta Blaut of Cincinnati. For those who know running well: Nicole Greene is like the Meb Keflezighi of the collegiate high jump world – she doesn’t necessarily have a crazy PR but she just loves competing, so you can never count her out.

To be more realistic, let’s forget the jump she has to make between now and then and look at how what she has done compares to the current world stage:

Two weeks ago the world’s best met in Birmingham, Great Britain for the IAAF Indoor World Championships. Greene’s NCAA meet best of 6-1½ would have placed her 7th in this meet – a world championship meet. The jump would have put her at 7th at the 2016 US Trials as well and would have even beat seven athletes in the 2016 Rio games. Interesting, but obviously not a valid comparison as she wouldn’t have made the final to begin with – not to mention the indoor/outdoor difference in any of this, but Greene’s indoor PR of 6-2 would have put Greene at 10th in the 2016 Olympic final. With a year to train and her peak performances coming just before the 2020 trials, those marks are clearly in reach.

All of this is conjecture. Lots of things have to fall into line perfectly for Greene for this to happen. Health, confidence, weather, good competition, and simply a good jump. But don’t expect Greene to shy away from competing for another title – and likely two more – next year, and be on the lookout for this Tar Heel legend (yes, she still has another year of eligibility, but her title puts her in rare company) on the world stage in the coming years.

@CW_Barnhill

Photo Courtesy UNC Athletic Communcations

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when Nicole Greene would compete. She will compete in the 2019 outdoors season after a redshirt year. We apologize for this error.