Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

March 19, 2014

Carnett runs to 800-meter national crown

ATHENS — Walk into the lobby of the Carter Center at Concord University and it is hard to miss the Hall of Fame plaques adorning the walls, recognizing many of the athletes that have represented the Mountain Lions over the years.

She is not there yet, but it's safe to say Shawnee Carnett will have a spot reserved for her. The only question is: How big will that plaque have to be?

"I think this weekend I probably sealed the deal with the second one so I am excited about that," said Carnett, whose lengthy bio on the Concord website is full of accomplishments for the Mountain Lions. "I never would have dreamed that this career would have led to all this."

Carnett is living the dream, having become the only national champion Concord has ever had, and she has reached that level not once, but twice, and still has hopes to make it three.

"No,” said Carnett, if she ever expected such success at the college level. “I never was even a state champion in high school so I am like, ‘look at this’, but it is really awesome. I am really pleased with my decision to come here."

The Concord senior added her second national title last Saturday, capturing the 800-meter run at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships in Winston-Salem, N.C. She also won the D-II Outdoor title in the same event in 2011.

"It is really awesome because track sometimes doesn’t get a lot of attention," said Carnett, a product of Sugar Grove, Va., and graduate of Marion High School. "It is more individual, so it feels really good to get that for track runners."

It wasn't easy. Running four laps on a 200-meter indoor track, Carnett was running in eighth place out of eight runners with one lap to go.

That was by design.

"That is how I have always raced," Carnett said. "I don’t know if it was where I was a sprinter...I kick it at the end because I have a lot of speed. That is how I won in 2011, it was the same thing. It was on the last lap. I knew the people will die down at the end."

Sure enough, while everyone else slowed down, Carnett passed them all, stayed out of trouble and crossed the finish line in a school record time of 2:08.76.

"I was pleased," said Carnett, who set four schools records in the indoors season in four different events at three different meets. "It was on a flat track, and our school record was on a bank so if you use the conversion, it was a big school record for me...

"It is awesome. It is a little scary because you are like, ‘I don’t want to be the one that dies out at the end’, but it is awesome. In this race a lot of girls did stumble. A girl in front of me stumbled and I kind of just like stepped back. That is a lot of the reason why I stay in the back because you stay out of trouble because if you fall, game over."

Instead, it was game over for everyone else. Carnett entered with the best 800 time in the nation, and won the preliminaries last Friday night, but certainly never took for granted that the title would be hers.

"I won the prelims. It did make me feel good, going in it gave me a lot of confidence and it was easy to do and it felt really good," Carnett said. "I went in first, and that feeling was awesome, but that is why you have the finals. Just because your lane is first does not mean that you are going to win."

Carnett is now a five-time All-American honoree, and two-time national champion. She has qualified for Nationals five times — either indoors or outdoors — has been an All-Region honoree seven times and won a pair of WVIAC titles.

She has also finished 12th in the WVIAC cross country finals, helping the Lady Lions to a team title in that sport during her tenure at Concord.

What led to this affection for running?

"I think I just liked it because I was good at it," Carnett said. "I would go for morning runs and you just kind of get in your own world listening to music, and you can do it by yourself...

"I guess it is just trying to be the best person that you can be and try to beat people, just trying to be the best."

It was while attending a K-8 school in Sugar Grove that a basketball coach suggested she give running a try. That helped pave her way to Concord.

"I didn’t really know I was good enough to go until I was like a sophomore or junior and I kind of figured it then," said Carnett, who was more of a sprinter at Marion, excelling in the 400 meters more than 800. She also ran cross country for four years for the Scarlet Hurricane.

Carnett first met Concord track coach Mike Cox, a two-time Olympic trials qualifier in his own right, through her high school coach, Joey Carroll, and had no trouble deciding on her college home.

"I met Coach Cox when I was a sophomore in high school and I just knew this is where I wanted to go," Carnett said. "I told him before the race (Saturday) that I had no regrets with any decision I have made. If I don’t win anymore it has been awesome."

She had no such trouble. Even when Carnett fell to the back, there was no need to panic, she had them right where she wanted them.

"I think I get more nervous every time, but I do really well under pressure usually," Carnett said. "It is a bigger hype, I was really nervous this weekend, but I think it really helped because it meant a lot."

Carnett isn’t imposing physically, but is in excellent physical shape, and is deceivingly fast, especially when there is a race to be won.

"I just like to be comfortable the first lap," Carnett said. "I am shorter, but I don’t really think that matters at that level, there is a lot of shorter people out there."

While Carnett won the 800-meters in the D-II Outdoors competition three years ago in California, Saturday’s victory may have meant more since she has had to overcome injury issues that began to crop up after winning that first national title.

"I did it as a sophomore, but I hadn’t even been running the 800 very long so this was a big deal," said Carnett, who has dealt with tendonitis and hamstring problems. "I didn’t really know how much it meant until I got hurt. You get sick and then you realize that it is really hard to do. This one probably meant a lot more just because I went through a lot to get there."

Carnett, who redshirted last spring and didn’t participate in the outdoors season, has been a success all through her career, earning the first of her All-America honors as a freshman during the outdoors season, having been ill much of her freshman indoor track campaign.

"I never, ever got hurt until after I won Nationals," Carnett said. "It was really hard to run Nationals and then get hurt so I really fought back for this one...

"It was just perseverance , you have got to do the little things, going to bed early or doing your morning run, just doing the little things. At Nationals it is all the little things that add up."

There isn’t much time for Carnett to celebrate her national title. In fact, she had one day to relax, and now it’s time for the outdoor season to begin this weekend at Wake Forest.

"It is a quick turnaround, but I am really looking forward to outdoors because I was redshirted last year," Carnett said. "The year before I got hurt and didn’t make nationals so it has been a long wait to be able to run for Concord in the outdoor season.

"I am really excited about it and to be on some relays again."

The D-II Outdoor Nationals will be in Michigan, and she is definitely eyeing a chance to finish on top. Carnett also has a chance to finish among the top Division II runners ever in her event.

"They have a top 20 ever. They have those rankings, and I would like to crack into that for the 800 meters, and obviously win again," said Carnett, who isn’t far from moving into that elite list. "With the conversion from indoors, I am not but about a second off so I feel like I am really fit now."

Carnett, who is majoring in Health and Physical Education — with an eye toward being a teacher or coach — will graduate in the fall, and doesn't plan to stop running anytime soon, possibly even trying to follow Cox’s path and compete as a professional or in the Olympics.

"I think the way this year has been going, it has been amazing so I would like to see how far I can go in it," Carnett said. "I am thinking about it, trying to qualify for the Olympic trials and see where that takes me."

Few have enjoyed their college life more than Carnett. She has left a mark worthy of Hall of Fame honors, and hopes her legacy at Concord will be more than just what she did on the track.

"I think mostly that I did things the right way," Carnett said. "I worked hard, I persevered  and mostly I was known as a good person too. I want to feel like I was more than just an athlete."

—Contact Brian Woodson

bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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