"This year has definitely been one of my hardest years competing," Ward said. "After I got injured at the Penn Relays, a part of me wanted to throw in the towel. But my coaches picked me up and made me believe I had enough time to recover. We put together a plan and took it 1 day at a time."
Pain, pride and perseverance have brought Ward back to this point, leading a host of local runners who are competing in the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which began Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. Ward, who is making her third consecutive appearance in the outdoor portion of the NCAA Championships, will compete in Thursday's 100 hurdles semifinals. The finals are Saturday. The two-time All-America, from Leesburg, Fla., placed seventh last winter at the indoor championships in the 60 hurdles.
It was a race against time as Ward and the Villanova coaching staff created a rehab program to prepare her for the May 25 East Regional in Jacksonville, Fla. Ward started virtually from square one, incorporating light workouts to work her injured leg back into shape. In the slow and arduous rehabilitation process, patience was a virtue. Skipping crucial races near the end of the season, including the Big East championships, was difficult for Ward, but her mind was set on making it to Des Moines.
"We had to be very careful of what she could do and how aggressively we could bring her back into the fold," Wildcats associate head coach Anthony Williams said.
When the East Regional finally arrived, Ward was not at 100 percent, but was confident she was healthy enough to make it through. Racing to continue her college career, the senior would not be denied, though it didn't come easy. With the top three in each heat automatically qualifying and the next three fastest finishers rounding out the field of 12, Ward finished fifth in her heat, with a time of 13.25 seconds in the national quarterfinal round. After waiting out the next two heats, Ward's 10th-place finish overall earned her a trip to Des Moines and 2 additional weeks of preparation.
Ward has not reached the final round at the NCAAs. In 2010, she made it through the preliminaries to the quarterfinals but did not advance further. In 2011, Ward competed in the semifinals in the 100 hurdles but was unable to reach the final round, placing fifth in her heat and missing the qualifying time by 0.13 seconds.
This season, she hopes to reach the final and earn a medal, something she thought would be impossible while lying on the track at the Penn Relays.
"It would be a wonderful experience and a great way to end my career at Villanova," Ward said.
Her coaching staff has continued to instill in her a message of confidence and hope.
"She definitely has it in her. I'd prefer this race being 3 weeks later so we'd have more time, but in my mind, she's one of the top four or five hurdlers in the country," Williams said. "That won't change one way or the other regardless of where she finishes."
Ward will run in the 100 hurdles Thursday night.
First up for the Cats, however, was sophomore Sam Ellison, who finished second Thursday night in his 800 heat and qualified for the men's final with a time of 1:48.40.
Other Villanova athletes are: Sam McEntee, who will compete in the men's 1,500 (7:15 p.m., Thursday); Boganda Mimic and defending national champion Sheila Reid, who will compete in the women's 5,000 (Saturday, 1:19 p.m.).
Penn's Maalik Reynolds will compete in the men's high jump (6:30 p.m., Thursday) and Temple's Travis Mahoney will run the men's 3,000 steeplechase (8:25 p.m., Thursday).
Contact Daniel Carp at email@example.com