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Nicole Greene becomes UNC track and field's first national champion since 2007

Greene, a junior, won an individual championship in the women's high jump earlier this month.

Nicole Greene

Nicole Greene competes in the high jump during the Dick Taylor Carolina Cup on Jan. 13 in Eddie Smith Field House. Greene won UNC's first individual national championship since 2007 at the 2018 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

After finishing in fifth place at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, North Carolina high jumper Nicole Greene felt like she had something to prove for her junior campaign.

When Greene began the season in January by clearing 6 feet and 2 inches, the best mark in the NCAA at the time, it was apparent that she was determined to reach her ultimate goal. Greene would eventually win her first ACC title this season, gaining momentum as she looked ahead to national competition.

A few months later on March 9, back on the national stage, the junior from Ponte Vedra, Fla., would have to give everything she had to make her dream of a national championship become a reality.

At the end of the competition, Greene was tied for first place with Cincinnati's Loretta Blaut, subsequently resulting in a climatic jump-off that would decide the NCAA title. Starting at 1.90 meters and working their way down, 0.02 meters at a time, both contestants failed to clear the bar on their first four assigned heights. It was at this point when fatigue began to sink in.

“It was like a marathon,” Greene said of the seemingly never-ending experience. “I just wanted to be done.”

Struggling with the relentless pace, and allowed only two-minute resting periods in between jumps, Greene thought to herself, over and over, "Please, let me get over the bar."

In every single round, Blaut was the first to jump, so when she missed the 1.82-meter height in the seventh round, this finally gave Greene the opportunity that she had been waiting for. Shortly afterward, the UNC high jumper prevailed over her exhaustion, as well as the ghosts of her past, to clear the bar and secure her first ever national championship. 

“It was one of my all-time goals,” Greene said. “I felt relief of all of the hard work that I put in the fall, and all of the training and conditioning that I had to do for it — that was the satisfying moment of all of the things that I had done before. I had never done something like that in my life, but I was happy I was able to persevere through it."

Standing on the sideline of Texas A&M's Gilliam Indoor Stadium, hyping her star athlete throughout the entire duration of the event, UNC high jump coach Nicole Hudson attests that it was a depleting experience for everybody.

“I think while it's happening, you’re just so caught up in it, that it’s just starting to sink in now,” Hudson said. “It wrings every bit of emotion out of you. You’re supposed to feel exhausted.”

Greene's teammates were closely following her progress back in Chapel Hill, refreshing the live feeds on their phones every minute. Once the results were final, they were ecstatic.

“It was the most intense thing ever for not even being there,” fellow high jumper Draven Crist said. “It was awesome. I’ve never been so happy for someone in my life.”

Redshirt senior Emily Godwin has witnessed Greene's tenacity and win-at-all-costs mentality firsthand. So, naturally, she was not surprised by what her teammate accomplished.

“It’s just a testament for how hard she works, and how much she really wanted it,” Godwin said. “She’s always willing to put everything on the line.”

Greene became UNC's first national champion in the women's high jump since 2006, and its first national champion in any event since 2007. She was also the only woman from the ACC to return home from College Station, Tex., with an individual title. Now, she has decided to redshirt her senior year to focus on studying for the MCAT and applying for medical school.

"I definitely want to go to med school," Greene said. "It's been my dream all of my life. I don't see myself as doing anything else really. I mean it would be nice to be pro in track for a little while, but that can only last for so long."

Greene will return to the team for its 2019-20 season to complete her fourth year of eligibility. That will prepare her for another ultimate goal: to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials that summer, and represent her country in Tokyo.

“My end goal for my track career is to make the Olympic team," Greene said, "so having that redshirt season to get stronger in the weight room and really focus on that is the key thing."

Until that time comes, Greene's last event with North Carolina will be one she won't forget anytime soon.

Senior writer Jonah Lossiah contributed reporting.

@keberly1996

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