NEW ORLEANS - After two semesters at Xavier University of Louisiana, Devinn Rolland has carved a unique niche in XU history.
A chemistry/pre-pharmacy major from the New Orleans suburb of Harvey, La., Rolland is the first XU freshman student-athlete to be named All-America. And she's the first from Xavier to record a 4.0 grade-point average for both semesters during an All-America year.
Rolland was named NAIA All-America after finishing sixth May 24 in the long jump - she produced a personal record of 19 feet, 5.5 inches on her fifth of six jumps - at the national outdoor track and field championship meet in Marion, Ind. The top eight in each individual event and all four runners from the top eight relay teams received that honor. Nearly three weeks earlier, she completed her second straight XU semester with all A's.
Rolland also qualified for the NAIA meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. In both events she reached the semifinals.
"I'm not surprised," said Nancy Walsh, her basketball coach at Cabrini High School in New Orleans. "Devinn is amazing. Her senior year we did early morning preseason conditioning several days a week . . . from the start of school in August until the start of practice in October. Devinn never missed a workout, and her grades never suffered."
Rolland was a Cabrini salutatorian and a National Achievement Scholarship recipient. It's her academic success which enabled her to attend Xavier on a Board of Trustees Scholarship, a full cost-of-attendance award that she'll keep for 2012-13 because of her outstanding grades.
"You have to study," Rolland said. "You have to stay on top of your academic work because if you don't, it'll get difficult."
It seems that the only difficulty Rolland has encountered is deciding to participate in track and field. She says she's always been fast - "When I was younger, I was always beating the other kids when we raced on the playground" - and an uncle in coaching encouraged her to formally compete. Rolland remembers attending one practice for a local age-group team, but she didn't continue.
Finally, after one year at Cabrini, Rolland joined the track team in ninth grade. "I thought it would be too tough," she said. But her performances suggested otherwise. Rolland was a Class 4A state champion outdoors as a sophomore in the long jump and won another 4A state title in the 200 a year later. As a senior at the 4A outdoor meet she placed second in the long jump, third in the 200 and anchored a pair of top-three relay teams. Cabrini scored 64 points to finish second, its best finish ever at the state meet.
"To me, Devinn is the complete student-athlete," Cabrini track coach Rudy Horvath said. "She's bright. She's competitive. She's very coachable. And to top it all off, she's a phenomenal athlete."
Rolland faced another do-I-or-don't-I decision at Xavier. Coach Joseph Moses - who revived the XU track program by entering some of his cross country runners in meets during the spring 2010 semester and had followed Rolland's Cabrini career - had an open-arm welcome ready for her. But, once again, she had doubts.
"I was very close to not running track," Rolland said. "I thought I wouldn't be able to handle it and stay on top of my studies. But when I got to orientation in August, I decided to give it a try and see what happened."
What happened was Rolland's usual standard of excellence. She handled all challenges in the classroom. Though she didn't relish weight training and the resulting soreness, eventually she got stronger.
"Devinn had an awesome year," Moses said.
At the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Championships on April 28 at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans, Rolland was the only female to win three individual events. She beat defending champions in the 100 and long jump and finished first in the 200. All three of Rolland's winning marks were better than those of the previous year. Her times of 11.87 seconds in the 100 and 24.51 in the 200 were personal records.
Her long jump PR at the NAIA meet qualified her for the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Bloomington, Ind., in mid-June. Though she finished 11th out of 19 jumpers and did not qualify for the U.S. team which competed at the IAAF World Junior Championships this month in Barcelona, Spain, Rolland finished ahead of NCAA Division I athletes from Kent State, North Texas and Appalachian State. And, according to Moses, she took another positive step just by competing.
"Devinn has just begun to scratch the surface in track and field," Moses said. "She's a special young lady with tremendous natural ability. She will get better the longer she competes because of the experience she'll gain. Going to NAIA nationals and going to USA juniors opened her eyes to what's out there. I expect her to get PRs in the sprints and the long jump next season."
This XU program made noise a year ago, too. With the help of several basketball players, who combined to score nearly one-third of the the Gold Nuggets' points, Moses coached Xavier's women to the 2011 GCAC outdoor championship, edging crosstown rival Dillard by 5.5 points. The women's 4x400 relay team - Marchelle Jones, Brianna Dekine, Ashley Taylor and Dominique Webb - competed at the 2011 NAIA meet.
"Track at Xavier has a long tradition of success," Moses said. "I think the potential is here for a team to win a national championship."