Jacious Sears Inches From Record Territory

After a 100 season opener just 0.02 off Sha’Carri Richardson’s collegiate best, what more might Vol senior Sears have in store this spring? (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

IT’S ONE THING to hear your coaches say you’re in shape for something big. It’s another thing to do it. Says Jacious Sears, atop the world list this season with her searing 10.77 at the Tom Jones Memorial, “I was shocked. My coaches tell me in practice, ‘You’re going to run a good time, you’re going to run a good time, just execute, just execute.’ I think they were more prepared to see that time on the board than me, if anything.”

Sears crushed her old PR, the 10.96 she ran last season to win the SEC. “You know, my coaches always say your best race is so easy. And that race, it probably felt the easiest out of all of my races I ran in the past. It felt really good.

“When I saw the time on the board, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at God.’ It was a blessing.”

She immediately headed to her coaches, Vol head Duane Ross and assistant Ron Garner, who after the standard congratulations started talking: “Critique, critique… He [Ross] told me what I needed to fix, which is good, though. There’s always room for improvement, which I love.”

What’s to fix? “I could have improved the end of my race by keeping the stride rate up.”

Improvement has always been the name of the game for Sears, now 22, and she has done plenty since she transferred to Tennessee from Miami at the end of the ’22 season. Prior to that she had bests of just 11.28 and 23.36. An ACC Indoor champion for the Hurricanes, she had never made it to an NCAA Championship.

She says moving to Knoxville was motivated primarily by her desire to work with Ross. “When I was in high school, I remember watching [10.95 performer] Kayla White. I’m still a big fan. I mean, I trained with her last year, and I’m still a big fan. Seeing that she was coached by Coach Ross, seeing her progression, it was all so inspiring. And then seeing Cambrea [Sturgis, 10.87 PR] when she was a freshman, seeing how much she progressed, and the next year, she progressed even more.

“Definitely coach Ross was the biggest reason, the No. 1 reason why I came to Tennessee… Moving from Miami to Knoxville, I knew it was going to be a big difference in environment, which I needed. Knoxville is more peaceful and it’s slower. And even the environment on campus as well is different. The sports, they get more attention.

“And then there comes the coaching. It’s a whole 180, a whole switch. My mindset has changed since being here. And my coaches are literally the biggest reason for that. They literally coach not only physically, like workouts, but they also coach your mind. The transition, it’s been really good. But definitely different.”

There have been some challenges with the move as well. Sears has always been family-oriented, and now they’re farther away. “They all live in Florida. At Miami, I was only an hour and a half away from my mom’s house, so I’d probably drive down there every other weekend. There was a time when I was a freshman, I would drive down there every weekend. Not having close contact with them has been the biggest challenge.”

A gymnast as a child, she switched to track in 6th grade. “I loved track & field. I would always race the boys in PE.” As a 9th-grader, “I wanted to take it more seriously.” She started working with Derek Walker and his Fast Lane Track Club. By the time she graduated from Palm Beach Gardens High, she won the Florida 4A title, went undefeated by preps in the 100, and won New Balance in a PR 11.41.

“Once I started training with him, my whole everything got serious for track & field. He was like a complete shift — the amount of time I put into track, the amount of determination that I had for track and the amount of work — hard work. After I started training with him, that’s when the goals started coming.”

She adds, “I don’t think I was thinking of about times very much back then. But my coach [Walker], he’s similar to coach Ross and coach Garner. They dream big and make me dream big. He always saw it before me. He always put the idea of the Olympics out there. When you’re younger and you’re not running the times that the top athletes of the nation are running, you’re not really thinking about it. But he used to always tell me, ‘No, you need to think bigger. You need to have the Olympics as a goal.’ And yeah, that’s when I really started.”

The motivation that has driven Sears all along has come from close to home. “My mother did track & field when she was young. She’s Jamaican. She came to America when she was 21 but she didn’t have the same opportunities, so she couldn’t keep running track & field. And she’s been through so much. After her divorce with my dad, she took care of me and my sister by herself. I really just want to make her proud. I want to make her feel that the hard work she put into us is paying off.”

She also refers to her faith often. “I would say that I owe it all to God. Throughout this track journey, it’s been a spiritual journey, just growing and keeping my faith.”

There is more to come, she believes. The 3rd-placer in last year’s NCAA 100 (and 4th at 200) says, “There’s a lot of work to be done… I knew I knew with what they told me in practice that I was going to run a fast time. I was like, ‘This is going to be a big year.’ And this is my last collegiate year. So, they are preparing me to run fast times, but I didn’t know it was going to happen this early.

“There’s a lot to improve on. I feel like when I ran that race, I don’t know… Openers always feel a little weird because it’s your first time running that distance competitively. So, I think for sure there is room for improvement. And the times, God’s will, will go down.”

That could spell trouble for the current Collegiate 100 Record, the 10.75 by a certain Sha’Carri Richardson that is just inches faster than Sears’ season-opener.

As for the 200, where she has a best of 22.45 and a season debut coming up shortly, she says it was perhaps her favorite race of the two. Emphasis on was. “In the beginning of the year, I was going to say, I would say the 200. But it might be the 100 this year,” she explains with a laugh.