At last weekend’s Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Track & Field Championships, senior sprinter Rikka Lovely’s third-place win in the 200-meter helped St. John’s University to its best finish in the event in seven years.

“I was extremely nervous because it was the last indoor meet and I wanted to do my absolute best,” said Lovely, whose time of 24 seconds was a season best.”I felt extremely ready, but the nerves were going crazy. … The goal now is to get a 23 outdoors.”

Lovely was recently the recipient of the American Eagle Outfitters Big East Institutional Scholar-Athlete Award, a $2,000 grant toward graduate studies. “It was a huge surprise,” said Lovely, 21, who was nominated by her athletic academic advisor. After she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in science and communicative arts this May, Lovely hopes to pursue graduate studies in international communications at St. John’s.

As a kid, Lovely tried numerous sports and found her way to track in sixth grade. She said it suited her because she had a lot of energy, and because she was a naturally competitive person, she loved the idea of running faster than the boys.”Every athlete can say there’s the time when they felt like they probably wanted to quit,” she said. “My mom pushed me year after year to keep doing it.” So far, Lovely is the only child in her family to get an athletic scholarship, but her younger brother is aiming to match her.

Lovely has taken her role as a senior leader on the track team seriously. As an underclassman, she learned so much about leadership and excellence from high jumper Priscilla Frederick, one of the best track and field athletes in Red Storm history.

“Her mentality on and off the track–she’s a serious go-getter,” said Lovely. “She walks in with so much confidence. It’s something I admire.”

Although Lovely said that she cannot live up to Frederick’s standard as a track glamour girl, she and her teammates try to be stylish by wearing mascara and eyeliner for races.”Our nails are always done,” said Lovely. “For Big East Championships, we all had matching red nails. It was kind of a good luck omen.” Outdoor track and field season starts on Saturday.

“I’m going to be emotional [about] every big meet we have,” Lovely said. “I’m ready to meet my goals and break records.”