LAWRENCE — Paris Daniels just hated the idea of going to Kansas. She was a Missouri girl for one, raised in St. Louis, and after spending two years on the track team at Coffeyville Community College, Daniels was ready to get the heck out of Dodge.
Too small. Too quiet. Too Kansas.
“Whatever I do,” Daniels told her family, “I don’t want to go to school in Kansas.
“I had been in Kansas too long.”
Nearly two years later, Daniels is still here, dusting the collegiate track competition in the great Midwest. Daniels, a senior sprinter, is leading a women’s track renaissance at KU, leading the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks toward a first women’s outdoor track & field national championship.
It’s been a team effort in Lawrence. Junior sprinter Diamond Dixon is an Olympic gold medalist (1600-meter relay last summer), and senior Andrea Geubelle is a national contender in the long jump and triple jump. But it was Daniels who was selected the Big 12’s Outstanding Female Performer of the Year after a dominating performance at the Big 12 meet.
Daniels took first in the 200, while finishing runner-up in the 100 and anchoring victories in the 400 and 1600 relays. She was the first KU women’s athlete to earn the honor since Candace Mason in 1998.
“We definitely knew that she would make an immediate impact on the team,” KU track and field coach Stanley Redwine said. “And it’s showed.”
For Daniels and Kansas, the attention now turns to the NCAA West Preliminary meet, which began Thursday in Austin. KU, ranked No. 1 in the nation, will be trying to qualify as many competitors as possible for the NCAA Championship meet June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. The Jayhawks may feature fewer prelim competitors than the other squads in the top 10, including No. 2 Texas A&M and No. 3 Oregon, but they do feature elite talent at the top.
And that includes Daniels, who has the third-best time in the 200 (22.73) in the West prelims. All this from a sprinter who needed a little extra convincing to land at KU. The chief task fell to Redwine and sprints coach Elisha Brewer, who sold Daniels on Lawrence and the culture of success that was building in Lawrence.
“It was a very tough sell,” Redwine said. “It wasn’t easy at all. I believe a whole lot of prayers and hard work got her here.”
Daniels arrived at Kansas last year with what she calls “crazy” form. But Brewers helped smooth out some of the raw edges. And the success was immediate. She won the Big 12 title in the 200 meters, and then finished eighth at the NCAA championships. The Jayhawks, though, finished fourth in the team standings. This year, Daniels is hoping for even better this year.
“I didn’t want to come (to KU),” Daniels says. Now I feel like it was the best choice than I could have ever made.”