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Former NL track star doesn’t get to compete for an NCAA championship

Jackie Ni’s junior season at King’s College was filled with memories and moments he won’t soon forget.

But Ni’s lasting impression of what was a record-setting campaign left him wondering what might have been.

Ni qualified for the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships which were scheduled for March 13-14 in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Ni was set to participate in the weight throw after throwing the seventh best mark in the nation to win the MAC (Middle Atlantic Conference) title earlier this season. The Northern Lehigh graduate threw a school record 18.69 meters (61’4”), which put him in the top flight at the National Championships. Ni broke the school record twice during the season, while winning five meets and coming in the top three at all nine invitationals.

Ni was in Winston awaiting the start of the competition when his dreams were dashed as the NCAA announced a day before the meet was scheduled to begin that it was canceling the remainder of its winter and spring championships due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think the first place we stopped when we got to North Carolina was the facility where we were going to be competing at,” said Ni. “Being there, and seeing all of the athletes at first was very overwhelming; I was really nervous to be there.

“But the more I was there, the more I was able to relax. I just told myself that I earned this. It was amazing just to be there. I just felt ready for the next day to compete. It was great until we got the news.”

Ni spent Thursday preparing and exploring the JDL Fast Track facility before finding out later in the day that his season was over.

“I felt good that I had made it there,” Ni said. “But I felt worse for those who lost their last chance to compete at that meet.”

Ni and sophomore teammate Mitch Forgash (800) became the first men in Monarchs’ program history to qualify for the meet.

After spending the night in North Carolina, the team returned to Wilkes-Barre the following day. Ni returned home on Sunday.

“It was just really heartbreaking for everyone,” said Ni. “You just have to appreciate everything.

“Every practice, even the worst ones; the really early ones, or those nights where you have to balance schoolwork and practice. You just never know when it could be over.”

Ni also earned his second straight U.S. Track & Field and Cross-country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Region honor in the weight throw this season.

To earn All-Region honors, an athlete must be one of the top-5 individuals in their event in their respective region.

Ni finished third of eight throwers in the weight throw with a mark of 17.67 meters (57’11.75”) on his sixth and final attempt at the Tufts National Qualifying Meet in early March.

The mark was his fifth best throw of the season and gave him the top five marks in program history. In the finals, he hit a mark of 17.21 meters on his first toss and then fouled on his second attempt. He finished the event with his best mark of the day.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) also recognized Ni for his commitment to the weight room. He was one of seven athletes from Kings nominated by the school’s strength and conditioning coach, Bryonne Herring, for their determination to improve in athletics while maintaining academic prominence.

At Northern Lehigh, Ni placed second in the District 11 Class 2A shot put to qualify for states. Ni also qualified for states in the discus, an event he was third in at the Colonial League meet.

“I would really like to thank the Northern Lehigh coaching staff and everyone there,” said Ni. “I still practice there and use those facilities.

“I just want to thank them for all of the help and support they’ve given me along the way.”

Jackie Ni prepares to release the discus as a member of the Northern Lehigh track team in 2017. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO