Westminster College's Avylina Powell-Qualo jumped higher and higher this track season until she qualified for the Division III National Championships Meet. She had the 11th-best jump in the nation at the May 28 competition.
The accomplishment caps her successful first year as a Blue Jay — after she transferred from Evangel University. She is also a SLIAC all-conference player and all-defensive player on a basketball team that won the SLIAC Tournament Championship.
The former Class 5 all-state high jumper at Republic in 2018 was nervous heading into this track season after not jumping in two years. Powell-Qualo tore her ACL her senior year in 2019, cutting her basketball season short and costing her of her track season. Then, her 2020 outdoor track season as a freshman at Evangel was canceled because of the pandemic. So she said knew she had to do some training to make sure the all-state performer was there.
"I was super nervous because I hadn't jumped in two years," Powell-Qualo said. "I practiced a lot actually. I practiced right after basketball season. I didn't even get a break or anything, probably got a weekend break, then I started track."
Powell-Qualo said she was surprised how she wasn't negatively affected by this long layoff as she was able to set a new personal record in her second meet April 22 in Kirksville. She was able to clear 1.70 meters to win the Truman State Twilight Meet, besting the school-record 1.67 meters she set in high school.
Her new mark was good enough for a new Westminster record — breaking the 38-year-old one set in 1983 by Marguerite Donovan — and was the eighth-best in the country, qualifying her for the national championships.
"High jumping is kind of like riding a bike. You don't really forget how to do it," Powell-Qualo said. "I feel like it really didn't affect me, which is surprising."
The first bar she had to clear for this season to become possible was her ACL injury in high school. Powell-Qualo said she had to rehab for nine months, taking it seriously the whole way through. She said she heard about athletes in the past who tore the ligament again or tore the one on the other leg.
Powell-Qualo said a credo she tried to follow was "take my time and don't rush things." Coming back too soon could be do more harm than good, she said.
"The main thing that they told me was you think that you're 100 percent, but you're not," she said. "So they say don't push it because the chances of you tearing it again when it's not fully healed are very, very high. So I really made sure to focus on rehab. I honestly think I'm stronger than I was before I tore it"
The physical struggle was cleared but convincing others it was over was just beginning, Powell Qualo said. She said Evangel has a reserve team that functions like a junior varsity team. This is where she spent her freshman year.
During this time, Powell-Qualo said she was frustrated because she put in all the necessary work in her rehab, but the coaches felt they should play it safe and told her to not let it affect her confidence. Powell-Qualo said she had so much confidence in her ability so she looked for places to transfer.
At Evangel, she said she met a volunteer coach that knew Westminster women's basketball coach Talisha Washington and recommended Powell-Qualo look into the school. She visited the campus and clicked immediately with Washington, Powell-Qualo said, and knew it would be a great fit for her.
In her first basketball season, Powell-Qualo led the team in rebounds and was second in points and steals. Despite the stress of balancing two athletic seasons, she said her high jump background helps be a better basketball player, especially when it comes to her defense, which she feels is the strongest part of her game.
"I really work on being explosive," she said. "So when it comes to steals or rebounds, I feel like high jump benefits me just because I really work on being explosive, obviously because I'm jumping up."
Going into her first year at Westminster, Powell-Qualo said was able to socially settle in because she describes herself as outgoing, but she said she didn't expect to attract as much recognition as she has after her two inaugural athletic seasons. For instance, she said she received her first recognition in basketball after not earning any awards in high school.
With this being the past, Powell-Qualo is looking to clear that next bar as she said she is motivated to accomplish even more in her college career. She was second-team all-SLIAC in basketball, but she said would like to be first-team. She finished 11th in the nation in the high jump, but she said she would like to finish in the top 8 because she would be an All-American.
"I honestly didn't think that (the recognition) was going to happen my first year," Powell-Qualo said. "It just kind of motivates me to do even more once it comes to next year."