FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — While the drive between Neosho and Fayetteville, Ark., isn’t a particularly long one, Jessica (Jackson) Kamilos has come a long way since her days as a standout athlete at Neosho High School.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — While the drive between Neosho and Fayetteville, Ark., isn’t a particularly long one, Jessica (Jackson) Kamilos has come a long way since her days as a standout athlete at Neosho High School.

Known back then as Jessica Jackson — her maiden name — Kamilos, a 2011 NHS graduate, parlayed her high school success in cross country and track and field into even more success in both sports at the University of Arkansas, where she’s helped her Lady Razorbacks to a No. 7 ranking in the nation in track and field this season.

Participating in distance events for U of A, the 5-foot-2 junior placed seventh in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., over the weekend. The finish was good enough to earn Kamilos a title that will forever remain attached to her name: All-American.

Kamilos joined fellow teammate Grace Heymsfield in setting University of Arkansas school records in the race. Heymsfield placed sixth in the event, one spot ahead of Kamilos, breaking her own school record in the process with a time of 9:49.01. Heymsfield not only broke her own school record of 9:53.65, but Kamilos also topped that mark by running a personal best 9:49.25 to take seventh.

Kamilos’ time smashed her own previous personal best this season of 10:01.06 by 11 seconds. With her performance the All-American joined Heymsfield, also an All-American, as the only women in University of Arkansas history to run the steeplechase in under 10 minutes.

Not even Kamilos herself saw this coming. After the first two laps of the steeplechase she sat at the back of the pack. She admitted her mind began racing and she doubted herself for a moment until something suddenly changed.

“I was going to be happy just qualifying into the finals,” Kamilos said. “That was my main goal. Really, I didn’t expect to get All-American going into it. It seemed kind of far-fetched to me. The first two laps, I was in the very back. I got a little down, thought to myself and kept telling myself, ‘you’re at the back of the pack and you belong here.’ All of a sudden I realized I was in the middle and was breaking away from the pack. I kept counting the girls in front of me and thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’m in the running here.’”

She said she never thought she would be running with Heymsfield, and that Heymsfield was probably shocked as well when she realized the former Lady Wildcat was on her heels.

“We both realized it and kind of kicked it in and finished strong,” Kamilos said. “I never thought I would be next to her. That was a really good experience to be up there (on the medal stand) with her.”

Kamilos previously set her personal best in the steeplechase in 2013 with a time of 10:10.11, more than five seconds faster than her previous best, to take third place at the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships.

“When I crossed the line and saw the time I almost cried and fell over because I didn’t think I could run that fast,” she said. “I thought I would be able to maybe break ten (minutes). When I saw 9:49 I was a little surprised. With the training I’ve been doing with my coach it just really came through for me, I guess.”

A three-time all-state cross country runner at NHS, Kamilos, the daughter of Walter and Robin Jackson of Neosho, placed second at the MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships as a senior, fifth as a junior and eighth as a sophomore. She was a 10-time all-state performer at NHS, and the Lady Wildcats won four consecutive conference and district team titles during her four years. She set NHS school records in the 400 meters (58.00), 800 (2:11.08), 1600 (4:58.01), 3200 (10:50.05) and ran a personal best in the 5K of 17:34.

At Arkansas, Kamilos has been named All-SEC first-team indoor in 2013, took eighth in the mile at the 2013 SEC Championships with a personal best time of 4:45.05. She also grabbed ninth place in the 5000-meters at the SEC Championships that year, and set a personal best in the 1500 meters at the Arkansas Invitational in 4:24.55.

Despite being so far from home in most of her meets, Kamilos still sees familiar faces in most of her races on the Division I level. In fact, one of her friends and former teammate with the Lady Wildcats, Courtney Wood, also a 2011 graduate and a key member along with Kamilos on those successful NHS teams, has carved quite the path for herself in distance events at the University of Missouri. With Missouri now in the SEC, the two had an opportunity to race together again this season and finished third and fourth, respectively, at the SEC Championships in the 3000 steeplechase.  

“That was an awesome experience,” Kamilos said. “Just seeing her again … we both have the same happy attitude before and after a race, and we were joking together after the race. That was a lot of fun.”

Kamilos and Wood both ran under longtime former Neosho coach Harry Lineberry, a person Kamilos credited with helping get her where she is today.

“I just want to thank all of the people who have been supporting me throughout my career,” Kamilos said. “They’ve all been great. Coach Lineberry has been really supportive throughout my career and I’m just very thankful for that.”

Kamilos has more hardware in her sights as she will participate in the USA Track and Field Championships on June 26 in Sacramento, Calif.