Kayla Parker is nearing the finish line to her collegiate track career.
And she is positioned in an inside lane.
The Port St. Joe alum and University of Kentucky hurdler qualified last week for the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which begin next week in Eugene, Ore.
“I am very happy, very excited,” Parker said. “The track at Eugene (named after famed middle-distance runner Steve Prefontaine) is where some of the best athletes in the world have run. It is an honor to run there.
“It has been a very good year.”
In fact, if Parker was conceiving a sendoff to her collegiate career –she graduated May 10 with a bachelor’s of science degree in kinesiology – she would be hard-pressed to alter the script she’s written.
During the indoor season she was all-Southeastern Conference after finishing third at the SEC Indoor Championships in the 60 meter hurdles.
That earned a spot in the NCAA Indoor Championships, where she finished 12th, just off the pace for all-American honors.
“That was my first trip to the indoor meet and that was really a great experience,” Parker said by phone from her apartment in Lexington. “You have to be in the top 16 in the nation to qualify for indoors. I also got my first NCAA indoor medal and that was great.
“This year has been an amazing transition and I really feel good about how things are progressing. It gives me confidence that there is so much more to come.”
She was all-SEC in the 4x100 relay during the outdoor season while also competing in the 100 meter hurdles.
Her trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, earned by placing third in the 100 hurdles at last weekend’s East Qualifier, is the second-straight for Parker, who finished 13th last year.
That momentum fueled her indoor season this winter, which included posting early in the season, for the second consecutive year, the top 80 meter hurdle time in the country.
Parker has also seen her times drop consistently – she ran in the 13.20s to qualify for last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships but last weekend ran 13.05.
Her goal for the outdoor meet in Eugene is simple – reach the finals of the 100 hurdles.
“I want to be a first-team all-American,” Parker said, which would happen with a top-eight finish.
Beyond the NCAA meet, Parker is pointing to the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, CA later this summer.
She qualified and competed last year, reaching the hurdle semifinals.
The progress over her past two years mitigates two years of relative frustration upon her arrival at Lexington, progress she said is largely due to Coach Edrick Floreal.
Floreal arrived prior to Parker’s junior season and allowed her to run to her specialty, sprints and hurdles after competing in the heptathlon her first two years.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned over the past four years is everything is a process and you have to go through the process,” Parker said. “I would say a big difference this year is a good relationship with a coach who is very supportive.
“I also have strong teammates, we brought in a great class of hurdlers this year, including one of the best in the country (SEC champ Kendra Harrison). I am in a good position to go fast because I am training with some of the best in the country.”
The UK team’s progress under Floreal is highlighted in the numbers the Wildcats will take to Eugene.
After sending 10 athletes competing in 11 events to last year’s NCAAs, the Wildcats send 14 athletes competing in 15 events this year.
Parker said she plans to concentrate this summer on her running.
She wants to continue to run competitively; she also has goals to work down the road with athletes in a training/administrative/coaching capacity.
The horizon looms and expands with graduation from college and upcoming collegiate and national championships.
“This is where I planned to be four years ago,” Parker said. “It took a while to get there, but this is where I wanted to be.
“I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”