Ball State track and field had not had an athlete qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships since Amanda Barnhart did so in 2008. That was until Regan Lewis came along.

The Greenfield, Indiana, native cleared 1.8 meters on her second attempt at the NCAA East Preliminary Round to post her season-best mark and become just the second Ball State high jumper to compete for a national championship and the first since Bonita Harrington did it twice in 1983 and 1984.

"It's really exciting," Lewis said. "Last year it was cool to be there for the first time and everything, but it was kind of disappointing because I didn't make it out and I was supposed to on paper. But I think this year is a lot more exciting, obviously, since it's nationals."

Not qualifying for a shot at the national title a season ago wasn't all for nothing, though. She said it gave her a lot more familiarity with the event and let her know what to expect next time around, while providing a learning experience at the same time.

For head coach Brian Etelman, Lewis' qualification for nationals not only shows that great athletes can come to mid-major programs like Ball State and compete for national championships, but it also signifies a long-awaited return to prominence for the program and shows the mettle and resilience Lewis possesses.

"It's been fun, man," Etelman said. "I mean, there have been days where I'm just like, 'God, what the hell, this is going to take forever,' you know, and I think there are probably some days where the athletes have felt that way.

"But I think just getting people to understand that ... you can be really good at Ball State, you just have to have the appropriate mental approach, and that's kind of what separates [Lewis] from everybody else in my opinion."

As a track and field athlete, Lewis had to prepare for a year-long grind, and the ability to make it through that process can be its own hurdle to clear.

Etelman said the team begins its training in late August, and Lewis' last competition is scheduled for June 9, which will cap a 10-month season.

"Track is a sport that gets hard at certain points because it is such a long season," Lewis said. "Other sports may be like a couple of months, and I'm kind of jealous of them sometimes. And in August 'til December you don't have any meets, so you're just training."

Along with dealing with the long season, Lewis is in nursing school and had to miss a lot of practice toward the beginning of the season. She said the hardest part can come from the first couple of weeks of school when she is trying to figure out how to balance her schedule and find the best approach to time management.

Long before she qualified for a chance to become a national champion, Lewis knew she wanted to compete at the Division I level as a track and field athlete. She aspired to reach her current level as far back as middle school.

"After my eighth-grade year, I had jumped 5'6", I mean it wasn't bad for middle school," Lewis said. "I was pretty good at it, so I thought maybe I could do it. And then my freshman year [of high school] I was ranked to win state ... but I felt like I could do it in college."

Lewis will have the opportunity to cap off her journey with a national championship starting June 9 at 3 p.m. in Eugene, Oregon.

Contact Nate Fields with comments at nefields@bsu.edu or on Twitter@NateNada.