Danika Ani’s decorated track and field career at Stevenson University had her primed for success at this year’s NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships.
The Mustangs senior and Francis Scott Key High School graduate traveled last month to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was preparing to compete in the shot put and weight throw. A global pandemic made its way to the United States, however, and college athletes everywhere were met with heartbreak.
Ani said she was paying attention to various sports rulings, from professional leagues shutting down to the NCAA wiping out its college basketball tournaments, with hopes that Division III might let some athletes finish out their winter seasons. Ani was part of Stevenson’s national qualifying crew, and she wanted nothing more than to go after All-American status in the shot put and throw by placing in the top eight.
The Mustangs worked out and practiced at the indoor track national championships site on the eve of the event, but then ...
“The second we get back to the hotel, we get that call and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s canceled,’” Ani said. “It was crushing. I remember being like, ‘Maybe it won’t happen for D-III, maybe they’ll just let us go. We’re already here. Teams are already checked in. If anything, they might just cut it down to where only in that event can you be at the stadium for that amount of time.’ But it was surreal to hear it. It didn’t set in until we were driving back. ‘Oh, crap, we’re really not competing.’”
Ani went into the national meet as a two-time All-Region qualifier, something she also achieved in her sophomore year. All-Region status comes from being in the top five in a particular event on the Track & Field Results Reporting System’s standards list. Ani won the shot title at the South Region qualifying meet (13.07 meters, or 42 feet, 10.75 inches), and took second in the weight throw (15.96/52-4.5).
(Mustangs sophomore Kelli Garriott, a Manchester Valley grad, earned All-Region honors this winter in high jump.)
Ani won a shot put state championship for FSK in 2015 at 43-1, and she holds the top 10 performances for that event in program history. That same season, Ani won a regional shot title and hit 45-7.75 — the best distance in Carroll history.
Ani also owns the top discus performance in Eagles history (113-01 at regionals in 2015).
Her high school success carried into college, where Ani now holds all of Stevenson’s throwing records in both indoor and outdoor seasons. She competed at the outdoor national championships in 2017.
“Danika has had a immense impact on the women’s track and field teams here at Stevenson,” Mustangs coach Dave Berdan said via email. “Danika has also become an important leader in our ‘throws’ group. The other athletes have been able to look to her for guidance inside and outside of track and field.
“It was definitely a shame that Danika did not get to finish out her last two collegiate seasons.”
Ani set the Middle Atlantic Conference indoor meet record in the weight throw Feb. 22 when she reached 52-4.5 (15.95 meters), and Berdan said she has been a reliable scorer for Stevenson’s team points in the big events. But Ani had bigger goals in mind this season before the coronavirus crisis affected things.
Ani said she was working with Mustangs throwing coach John Uhrdahl, and they had plans on how to train for the spring after competing at indoor nationals.
“[With] how I was sitting and how our training was going, I would have been line to go to nationals for hammer, discus, and shot put,” Ani said. “We were so excited for the plan. Felt like I was in line for Penn Relays, some of the bigger meets. And then it was like, all that planning was just thrown away.”
She’ll have a decision to make for 2021. Ani could opt to come back and put together another season, given the NCAA’s recent ruling to allow another year of eligibility for spring sports seniors, but she also wants to pursue graduate school in her effort to become a physician’s assistant. If Ani takes that route, she said she won’t be competing again.
But if there’s a way to throw competitively in 2021, Ani said she’ll do what she can to make it happen and try to finish what she started at Stevenson.
“I feel like I was definitely on top of my game,” she said. "I have so much more left in the tank. I’m ready to let them all know what I can actually do. Even if I left right now, and that was the last time I ever competed, I have the school record for every throwing event. Weight, hammer, discus, shot, both indoor and outdoor.