PROVO — After spending two seasons on the University of Oklahoma track team, Kelsey Brown-Gilbert could not shake the feeling something was missing.
The Sooners were her first choice after a standout career at Mountain View High School. Brown-Gilbert signed with Oklahoma with an eye on seeing the world beyond her own backyard in Utah County. Two years later, she realized she needed to come home to progress in her sport.
“I had a great experience at Oklahoma,” Brown-Gilbert said. “It really was life changing for me. I met some amazing friends that I’ll have the rest of my life. But I wasn’t developing as a runner as I thought I should be (developing). By my sophomore year, I had qualified for regionals but I hadn’t made it to nationals. I just had set higher expectations for myself. That’s one of the main reasons why I left. I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted.”
Brown-Gilbert transferred to BYU and has not looked back since. This week, she will be competing at the NCAA Championships for the second time in three seasons. Brown-Gilbert — along with teammate Shea Martinez — will compete in the 800 meter semifinals on Thursday. The top eight finishers will advance to the final on Saturday.
“I had a great experience at Oklahoma. It really was life changing for me. I met some amazing friends that I’ll have the rest of my life. But I wasn’t developing as a runner as I thought I should be (developing).” —Kelsey Brown-Gilbert, BYU track
For Brown-Gilbert, the return road to nationals took an unexpected turn last season. A lingering IT Band injury forced her to redshirt the whole year. It was a frustrating follow-up to a junior campaign in 2013 where Brown-Gilbert set a personal record of 2:03.95 in the 800 meters during the season and reached the NCAA Championships for the first time.
Losing a season to injury offered a bit of a mental block even after Brown-Gilbert was 100 percent healthy again heading into 2015.
“I’ve been healthy this whole year,” Brown-Gilbert said. “I ran cross country earlier in the season with the team. I just didn’t have the same pop. I don’t know what it was. Getting back into that 800 meter race shape, it took me a while to find my competitive edge again.”
It was back by the time she competed in the NCAA Regionals at Austin. Brown-Gilbert came into Texas as a No. 17 seed in the 800 meters. She finished with a season best time of 2:05.55 in the final race — clinching the 12th and final available spot to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
BYU coach Patrick Shane felt like he saw flashes of Brown-Gilbert’s full potential at the NCAA Regionals — the same potential she once brilliantly showed when setting a state record at Mountain View with a time of 2:09.8.
“It took her a little bit longer to come back this year,” Shane said. “But she has never raced better than she ran at Texas. She was back to her old self with the sharpness and finishing in the extra gear like she had a couple of years ago.”
“It took her a little bit longer to come back this year. But she has never raced better than she ran at Texas. She was back to her old self with the sharpness and finishing in the extra gear like she had a couple of years ago.” —Patrick Shane, BYU track coach
One thing that helps Brown-Gilbert stand out is that she is a powerful runner and a good leader. Shane said she has enough speed to be effective in the 800 and she offers a strong example on how to run the right way to her younger teammates.
“I can’t say enough about the impact she has made here at BYU in the distance group which has been loaded with great 800 meter runners,” Shane said. “She’s been one of our best.”
Brown-Gilbert no longer feels like something is missing in her running like she once did at Oklahoma. She is headed to nationals for a second time and has a shot at finishing her career in the Top 8 in her event and claiming All-American status.
The BYU senior credits Shane with helping her develop the way she wanted to develop as a collegiate runner.
“I felt like I knew I was in good hands because of Coach Shane’s success and everything he has done,” Brown-Gilbert said, noting his coaching helped her trim her time from 2:07 to 2:04 in her first seven months on the team. “That was one of the most comforting things for me. I didn’t have to worry about or question why I was doing a certain workout or why I had to do this. I just knew he knew what he was doing.”