Christina Epps

Coppin State track athlete Christina Epps competes at the 2014 Penn Relays. (Courtesy of Coppin State athletics / April 30, 2014)

After she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, doctors told Coppin State triple jumper Christina Epps that it wasn't likely she would ever be able to compete at the same level again.

A little more than two years later, the fifth-year senior is jumping further than ever and aiming to repeat her All-American status from the indoor season as the NCAA's outdoor track and field championships approach.

"They say the worst, and you have to think the best," Epps said. "Now, I have been better than I ever was."

Saturday, Epps will compete at the NCAA's East Preliminary meet in Jacksonville, Fla. If she finishes in the top 12 in her event, she'll advance to the NCAA championships next month in Eugene, Ore. It's the final stage of a career that could have ended in a sandpit in South Carolina in March 2012.

Epps was competing at the Shamrock Invitational at Coastal Carolina when she felt a pop as she pushed off on the last bound of her triple jump. Laying in the sand where she landed, unable to get up, she screamed for her coach and then for her mother.

Beverely Epps, was back home in Morristown, N.J., and remembers getting the phone call from her daughter.

"When I got the call, all I heard was screaming," the mother said. "A lot of screaming and a lot of crying. Her heart was broken, torn apart more than her [knee]."

Epps and Coppin State coach Alecia Shields-Gadson hoped that the injury was just a hyperextension, or a sprain. But after they returned to the team's hotel, Epps' knee swelled, and they went to the hospital.

"Our hearts sank," Shields-Gadson said. "Three hours later we are walking out of there with a brace and know that once we get back to Baltimore we need to schedule surgery."

As a former conference champion, it was hard for Epps to sit on the sidelines and just watch her teammates. So, in the beginning of her rehabilitation, Epps sulked.

"My confidence, hopes and dreams of succeeding had diminished," Epps said.

But there was a turning point.

Spending a night back home, Epps was doing pushups in her living room as part of her rehab. Beverley Epps, knowing that her daughter needed some motivation, put down what she was doing and started chanting "You are going to make a comeback" after each rep.

For the first time, Epps really started believing it.

She did work on a stationary bicycle, then progressed to jogging. By January 2013, she was back training.

"That is when it started getting exciting," Epps said. "When I could start jumping on the knee again."

By March 2013, a year after her injury, Epps was jumping again. But she was forced to wear a brace to protect her knee. The expectations were low, but she still wanted to be out there.

"She wanted so much to help this team," Shields-Gadson said. "You could tell her confidence faltered."

Epps competed well throughout that season, but she found herself trailing in the triple jump at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference outdoor championships.

"It was hard for Christina to watch that," Shields-Gadson said. "She said, 'I know I'm in a brace, but this is my event.' And she just hit this one jump, and it not only sealed the victory for her, but it shut down the competition.