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Not to be Denied

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – We are one year removed from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been one year since four Miami track and field student-athletes were told they would not be able to compete in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships that started the next day. All the hard work from the season was gone.

Now, two Canes who made the trip to Albuquerque, N.M., last season for the 2020 Indoor Championships, secured their spots in the 2021 event.

Debbie Ajagbe and Tiara McMinn wouldn’t be denied the shot at being an NCAA Indoor National Champion.

“The disappointment of being at the Championships last year and having it taken away so abruptly is something you never forget,” director of track and field Amy Deem said. “The emotions are tremendous and then add five months of wondering when you will get to train again, let alone compete. I am very proud of their ability to not lose sight of their goals and train hard each day to return to these championships. Not only were they motivated to return to the NCAAs, but also to not go home empty handed.”

The pair each made their way back to the events in which they qualified last year. Ajagbe in the women’s weight throw and McMinn in the 60m hurdles.

Ajagbe will be the first Cane to compete in the three-day meet held at the Randal Tyson Center hosted by the University of Arkansas. The Miami native enters the meet as an ACC Indoor back-to-back Indoor Championships Field MVP and shot put champion. She still boasts Miami’s program record in the women’s weight throw with a mark of 22.55m and enters Thursday’s competition at No. 11 in the NCAA with her mark of 21.76m.

“Making it back to indoor nationals just solidified that I’m a really good thrower,” Ajagbe said. “Yes, of course I’m not terrible, but I do struggle with consistency. It wasn’t a fluke and now being able to compete at nationals this year gives me the chance to show everyone, and especially myself what I can accomplish on competition day.”

McMinn will start the action on Friday in the hurdles at 7:15 p.m. McMinn also holds the program record in her event with a personal-best time of 7.95 seconds, which she set last season. McMinn boasts the fourth-fastest time in the NCAA heading into the Championships with her time of 8.00 seconds that won her gold at ACCs two weeks ago.

Joining the two are Alfreda Steele in the 60m dash and Kayla Johnson in the 800m. Steele comes in at No. 13 in the NCAA with a time of 7.25, which earned her silver at the ACC Championships and matched her personal-best time.

Johnson broke her own program record twice at ACCs in the 800m. Her time of 2:03.80 is the eleventh-best in the NCAA. Johnson now holds the program record in the 600 yards, 600 meters and 800 meter at Miami.

With the Indoor NCAAs being one of the hardest meets to qualify for, taking only the top 16 competitors across the entire Division, Deem can’t help but express how proud she is of her upperclassmen on achieving such a feat.

“Like I said, having been away for five months and the uncertainty of a return was both mentally and physically taxing,” Deem said. “It speaks volumes to their passion and determination to compete at this national stage.”

Steele is scheduled to compete at 7:45 p.m., while Johnson will close out Friday at 7:55 p.m.

The Championships will be streamed on ESPN3 and live stats can be found here.