March 12, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – In the late ‘60s, a popular TV commercial advertised Chesterfield 101 cigarettes as a “silly millimeter longer” than the competition.
You’d never convince Elaine Derricott that any measurement that short – or even an oh-so-brief hundreds of a second – was silly.
Derricott is pointed toward her final Marshall outdoor track and field season after finishing second in the pentathlon in the recent Conference USA Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Ala. The redshirt senior from Richmond, Va., lost the title by two points to Jallycia Pearson of UTEP.
Pearson came from a 13-point deficit in the final of the five pentathlon events – the 800 meters. Pearson, in fourth, was 1.12 seconds faster than sixth-place Derricott … for 15 more points.
“If Elaine would have jumped one centimeter farther (in the long jump), she would have won,” said Marshall Coach Jeff Small, whose team opens the outdoor season next Thursday and Friday in the Bulls Invitational at USF. “If she had run two-tenths (of a second) faster, she’d have won.”
Derricott’s best events in the pentathlon are the 60 hurdles, the long jump and shot put. The event also includes the high jump and the finishing 800. She said she knows where she “lost” the title.
“It was the long jump (where she fouled twice),” she said. “That used to be my strongest event, but this time, it was my worst event. I jumped two feet under my PR (personal record). Even if I had jumped a foot under my PR, I’d have been perfectly fine going into the 800.
“In the hurdles, it was one-tenth of a second (8.56 to 8.65), which is like, what, a piece of hair?”
Derricott’s personal best in the long jump is 19 feet, 1 1/2 inches, in the 2011 Akron Invitational. In her last C-USA Indoors, she flew 17-2 1/4. Then, when you consider much of her career in the multis after she won the heptathlon title at the 2011 C-USA Outdoors at Rice, it’s stunning Derricott even made it close last month.
Her right leg has been a source of frustration for more than two years.
“This is the healthiest I’ve been since my sophomore year, and in that year at conference (outdoors) I was injured, too,” said Derricott, 23, who with teammate Jasia Richardson followed former MU assistant coach Willie Johnson and transferred from Radford to the Herd. “When I won the championship, I had a high ankle sprain.
“My junior year, I ended up with a tumor in my (right) shin, but I still competed. I didn’t necessarily train for the multis; I just did what I pretty much could, and my right leg is my jumping leg.”
Derricott underwent surgery to remove the benign tumor (an osteoid osteoma) from her right tibia on July 11, 2012.
“Everything was good, and they brought me back really slow,” Derricott said. “I couldn’t make it through conditioning. I’d go two days on, three days off, and then I had an MRI, and found out there was a fracture in the same shin, at the surgery site. So, I had to sit out for a while. Indoor, I still competed but I hardly practiced. I tried to do what I could for the team. In the long jump, I missed the finals by one spot.
“They had to drill into my shin to burn the tumor out from the inside. I’ve kind of been like this since I’ve been playing sports. You give 110 percent, and the more you give, the more you’re prone to injury.
“I’ve always had to battle through injury. It’s nothing new; it’s just more lingering than my other injuries. I fractured my shin playing volleyball (at Henrico High in Richmond). I’ve had a pulled hamstring. That’s just how I am.”
Small said that 2012-13 was difficult for Derricott, and more recently, he was told that if it weren’t her final year of eligibility, one suggestion would have been “to break her leg and then start all over.”
“In 2012 in New Orleans (C-USA Outdoors), she was sixth,” Small said. “Last year, the only thing we asked her to do and she could really do was run a leg in the 4x100 relay. We thought she was going to retire last year during the indoor season. She actually verbalized that. It was like, ‘If I can’t be great, I don’t want just good.’ I don’t want to do it unless I can reach my potential.’
Derricott said she was “really happy” with the 4x100 participation, because she combined with Shanice Johnson, Crystal Walker and Kearra Haynes to run a school-record 45.35 at the C-USA Outdoor Championships.
It is in the multis in which she wants to compete, however, and this spring she said she’ll work toward the C-USA Outdoors heptathlon by competing –when healthy -- in the hurdles and long jump.
“This past summer, I went to my doctor in Richmond in July and got another MRI to see if the fracture had healed, and he said it was close to being healed, or healed as much as it would heal. And while it was still pretty much there, it was much better than it was.
“He told me I should take a few more weeks off, no running, and then start training on the bike and in the pool, and gradually come back. That’s pretty much what I did. In the indoor season, I missed two meets, then came back (at Akron in early February, three weeks before the C-USA meet).”
Even with so much frustration and so little preparation, Derricott said she remained positive.
“In the championships, I felt like I had a shot, I really did,” she said. “I was anxious to compete and get back for the conference championships because I love doing multis, hate sitting on sidelines watching others do it, because I know I could beat most of them.
“I felt like I had a shot if everything fell into place, but I was still nervous not knowing how my shin was going to take a multi-event that I hadn’t done in two years. I was also nervous because I probably trained half of what the rest of them trained because of my shin and the fact that we don’t have a (track) facility. I can’t do what they do, so I didn’t know if I was even going to be in condition to run an 800 or to compete in five events in a row and still have wind enough to do what I needed to do.
“Last year, when I really couldn’t do anything, I just didn’t want to compete because I know what’s going on and everybody at the school in the program knows what’s going on, but those looking in on the situation don’t know what’s going on. And so to them, it looks like I just stink right now. I didn’t want to be looked at like that. When I compete, I want to compete, be able to be in the race, maybe not at 100 percent healthy, but so I can give 100 percent of what I have.
“This year I gave 100 percent. I wasn’t 100 percent, but I gave what I had, all I had, and I’m happy with where I ended up … but I’d liked to have won.”
Small said Derricott and her classmate, Richardson, also deserve credit for their veteran qualities after Johnson – the assistant who recruited them to Radford and coaxed them to Marshall – left for Western Kentucky last summer, to be replaced a couple months later by former Wyoming Coach Don Yentes.
“I’m really grateful that really, Elaine and Jasia, have really stayed the course since Willie left,” Small said. “They’ve been very positive with the younger kids through the changeover in coaches and they’ve done really well working with Coach Yentes.”
Derricott, who was the Herd’s first C-USA champion with that 2011 heptathlon title, said she and Richardson were just trying to fill a void.
“It was up to us then to step up,” Derricott said. “It was really rough in the beginning (of last semester) because we really didn’t have a coach in conditioning. That was when we had to step up and really be leaders.
“Of course, we were more accustomed to the system. We’ve been here, both in our fifth years, and we pretty much know everything in and out. When we got past that, we got Coach Yentes. In our workouts, we lead more by example now, versus his being the voice. He is now the voice.”
And in a somewhat fractured career, Small, Yentes and Derricott hope the athlete has a few more centimeters of success.