Jessica Hull doesn’t just love to run. She loves to compete.
As she turned into the final straightaway at the Payton Jordan Invitational on May 2, Hull began to get the feeling of excitement and anticipation, and channeled it into one of her patented kicks to the finish.
She was neck-and-neck with Karissa Schweizer, a six-time NCAA champion and now professional Nike runner. Hull edged her by two-hundredths of a second to take the win in four minutes, 12.08 seconds.
Hull rarely wastes an opportunity when the competition notches up another level. She has a keen awareness for the biggest stages, and it’s why she’s been so successful over the past season. At Payton Jordan, she recognized the importance of the race, and grateful to win against a talented field.
“It’s so special,” Hull said. “These are women I’ve looked up to and continue to look up too.”
Those familiar with collegiate track and field have grown accustomed to watching Hull dominate time and time again over the last year. In her outdoor season debut at the Stanford Invitational, Hull ran the then-third fastest 5,000-meter time in the world at 15 minutes, 43.93 seconds, which put her atop the NCAA and improved her personal best by 55 seconds. Hull’s biggest strength is arguably her finishing speed, which she is now looking to expand into longer races.
“It’s a lot of fun to try it over different distances,” she said after the race. “And at the end of the day if I can do something similar to the 1,500 at different distances, when I do come down and run a 1,500 hopefully I’ll have a skill set and a lot of experience, and the legs will just be muscle memory.”
The senior from Albion Park, Australia, has accomplished a lot in her time as a Duck. After Oregon’s longtime distance coaches Andy and Maurica Powell left for the University of Washington in the summer of 2018, followed by two standout distance runners in Katie Rainsberger and Lilli Burdon, the future of the distance programs looked uncertain.
It turned into an opportunity for Hull to become a force in women’s collegiate track and field. In the past year and a half, Hull has placed third at the cross-country national championship, set two school records in the indoor mile and 3,000 meters and anchored the distance medley relay team to a second consecutive indoor national championship.
With less than a month remaining until the NCAA outdoor championships, Hull’s name remains on the Bowerman Award watch list, which honors the most outstanding collegiate track and field athletes. Oregon’s former winners include middle distance runner Raevyn Rogers (2017), sprinter Jenna Prandini (2015), decathlete Ashton Eaton (2010) and distance runner Galen Rupp (2009). When Hull was put on the preseason watchlist, she was caught off guard.
“I was really shocked,” Hull said. “The names that have been on in the past, and to be put up there, I was kinda like, ‘why am I on there?’”
Hull said the award wouldn’t add any gratuitous pressure. In her first season with distance coach Helen Lehman-Winters, Hull has honed the ability to focus on herself and enjoy the process. Before joining Oregon, Lehman-Winters coached at the University of San Francisco for 15 years. She knows the tremendous potential Hull possesses, and the pitfalls that come with not focusing on the task at hand.
“I think that’s a constant process with all athletes,” Lehman-Winters said. “Just getting them to stay in the here and now, and enjoy the journey as opposed to looking at the end.”