Admittedly, Akera Benton expected to “jump out of the pit” when she got to college.
The former Jefferson track and field star enjoyed a record-setting career as a triple and long jumper for the Dragons and figured her personal-best marks would take off at the next level. She’s certainly done well through her first two seasons at Middle Tennessee State, but not quite well enough to meet her own strict standards.
“I guess I expected more, for me to jump further, but I’m my worst critic,” Benton said.
Here’s what Benton, a 2018 Jefferson graduate, has accomplished thus far through her freshman and sophomore campaigns: 14 top-three finishes, two first-place finishes, a personal-best distance of 40-3.5 in the triple jump and 19-6.75 in the long jump (achieved during an indoor meet).
Benton’s outdoor track season this past spring was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, erasing an opportunity to better those marks.
Ironically, Benton — who missed out on a state title in the triple jump in 2018 on a tiebreaker — said she’s faired better in the long jump than the triple jump despite being more recruited for her ability in the later.
But the triple jump is more “technique-y,” according to Benton, who said she had to relearn the process for that event in college.
Benton also found that high school track compared to college track are “two different worlds.” In college everyone is elite and everyone arrived there with a specific purpose, she noted.
“It kind of humbles you,” Benton said.
She admitted to being “terrified” in her first meet, and fell victim to overthinking, before finding her place in the college ranks.
“As I went to each meet, I got more comfortable,” she said.
According to results posted on MileSplit, Benton placed third in the long jump in her first ever college meet — the 22-team Vanderbilt (indoor) Opener — in December of 2018.
Her first collegiate victory then followed on Feb. 19, 2019 with a first-place showing in the long jump at Middle Tennessee State’s indoor invitational.
Her 2019 outdoor season then brought second and third-place finishes in the triple jump in a pair of meets and a personal-best distance of 40-3.5 in the Conference USA Outdoor championships triple jump. She finished seventh in Conference USA in that event. She also placed fifth in the long jump in the 2019 Conference USA outdoor championships.
Her 2020 indoor season included another first-place finish in the long jump (Ed Temple Classic) and six other top-three showings. She landed her personal-best jump of 19-6.75 in the long jump during a second-place finish at the UAB Green and Gold Invitational.
Whereas Benton has been hard on herself for her first two seasons of Division I track and field, her coaches appear pleased with the results.
“Yeah, they’re pleased,” she said. “Like I said, I’m my worst critic. They always say, ‘Well, you’re only a freshman; you’re only a sophomore.’”
While she awaits bigger moments in the jumping pit, Benton has excelled academically at Middle Tennessee State. She posted a 4.0 during her freshman year and again during the fall semester of her sophomore year (she’s also active in a campus ministry).
“I love my A’s now — I love my A’s,” Benton said. “As hard as I work in track and sports, that’s how much I work in academics.”
Benton is majoring in criminal justice with hopes to apply her education to a career possibly with the FBI or as a marshal. She said she’s “obsessed with Criminal Minds,” referencing the television show, when talking about her interest in criminal justice. Her father is also a warden.
Having built her strength through two years in a college weight room and honing her ability through competing against Division I athletes during one outdoor season and two indoor seasons, Benton was looking forward to her outdoor track season as a sophomore. Then, the global pandemic shutdown sports at all levels.
Benton said there’s some fear that she’ll lose the strides she made through her sophomore year, but views the layoff positively, too.
“Being away has given you time to recover or either master what you’ve been working on,” she said.
Benton said she's devoted her time during the layoff to daily abdominal work, pushups and bike rides while at home and away from campus training facilities. She’s set to return to Middle Tennessee State’s Murfreesboro, Tenn. campus this week.
Her goals for the 2021 indoor-outdoor track season include covering 42 to 43 feet in the triple jump and jumping 20 to 21 feet in the long jump with, hopefully, some all-conference honors to boot.
Basically, she’s ready to jump out of the pit.
“I’m ready to prove that they made a good decision with getting me on their team,” Benton said.