It’s what every high school track athlete wants to do: participate in the state track meet.
For four young women, 2011 is their year to fulfill that dream. Denison High School is sending Jaycee Parker, Kelva Thornton and Icis Finley while Sherman High School has Jayzhia Softly going.
To achieve this lofty goal, an athlete must first place in the top three at the district meet in his or her specialty event. Then, the competition becomes astronomically higher because three more athletes from seven more districts have done the same thing. So, at the regional track meet, 24 athletes are vying for the two spots reserved for the state track meet. And then, all you have to do is go against the ‘Best of the Best’ in a winner take all race or jump or throw at state.
“It’s very exciting,” said Denison Coach Charlie Means. “We weren’t expecting three to go, but it’s great that they are. We’re looking forward to it.”
Means, in his first year as track coach, noted that the achievements of the three athletes are a positive reflection on the DHS track program. It will also allow the chance for growth among the younger athletes.
“It’s nothing but positive,” he said. “Our young kids see that and they want to get to that level.”
The Yellow Jackets had about 30 girls in track this season and about the same number of boys; seven girls qualified for the regional meet as did two of the boy competitors.
Tia Curry is in her second year as the Sherman Bearcats track coach. She is pleased to have an athlete – Softly – going to ‘state.’
“It does help our program to have someone go; last year, we didn’t have any,” said Curry. “So, getting back there really helps.”
“Other kids see it; and it becomes a great way to build a program,” she concluded.
SHS had about 75 boys and girls on the track squads in 2011; 10 girls and six boys qualified for the regional meet.
“It also is good that many of our athletes were freshmen this year,” said Curry. “We’ll be around for a few years.”
Jaycee Parker is the only one of the four girls who has been to the state meet already. Parker finished second in the 400 meter dash in 2010 behind Courtney Okolo from Carrollton Newman Smith. The two will battle again on Friday in the one lap race.
“She is a good athlete; it’s good competition to have,” said Parker, a junior. “It’s good for me because I know what I have to do. I want to beat her. It’s a good thing.”
Parker qualified in three events for the regional event, but didn’t compete in the 200 meter dash and the 4x400 meter relay did not qualify for the state meet. She finished second in the 400 meters to…….guess who? Courtney O.
“I’m not worrying about that; it feels good to qualify,” said Parker. “I wasn’t too pleased with my time (56.75 seconds) but I’m happy to go back to state.”
Parker said she is focusing on pushing herself more than worrying about her competition. “I want to get a PR (personal record) this year,” said Parker. “My best is 54.39 seconds but I can do better.”
Parker is a dual sport athlete, but said that she is leaning toward track in college over volleyball.
“It’s more promising,” she smiled. “And I’ve fallen in love with track.”
Freshman Jayzhia Softly doesn’t hardly know what to think of it all.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said during practice this week. “I never thought I’d make it!”
But she did with a high jump leap of five feet five inches at the regional meet in Denton.
“I had heard that girls were jumping five eight and five nine,” explained Softly. “I was surprised that five six was the winning jump.”
Softly admits that she has ‘no idea’ how she will do in Austin on Friday, but her goal is to make it to the top four; the top half of the jumpers at state.
Softly will find out when the competition begins at 4 p.m. Friday at Mike A. Myers Track on the University of Texas campus. Her second place jump is her personal best to date.
“I’m having a good year,” she said. “I’m jumping my best.”
Although only in ninth grade, Softly is no stranger to state competition as she competed in the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation (TAAF) state track meet three times. She began jumping when she was eight years old.
“I couldn’t get over the bar!” exclaimed Softly remembered that year. “But I got to state.”
She went the past two summers as well and also competed in the hurdles at that meet.
“But this is different,” she said referring to the UIL state meet. “I’m going to be nervous, but I should get one of Coach Curry’s motivational talks and I’ll be all right.”
Kelva Thornton may be the most relieved of the four athletes.
Her excitement was high in 2010 when she qualified for the regional meet in the shot put and discus; her expectations were, too.
“I thought I would go to state; it was going to be automatic,” she recalled. “Then when I got there, I messed myself up.”
Thornton didn’t qualify in either event, but vowed to make it happen as a senior. As last year, the DHS senior qualified for both events in the regional meet. Things weren’t looking good when she failed to qualify in the shot put, but Thornton wasn’t worried.
“I knew if I didn’t make it in the shot, I would in the discus,” she said. “It feels good.”
She threw 125 feet for second place May 3 in Denton which put her in the state meet.
“I know I can do better,” said Thornton. “I scratched on my third throw and it was over 130 feet.”
She noted that for the past two weeks she has put in ‘a lot of extra work’ and she is looking for it to pay off.
“Just to be in the top eight or nine in the state already is awesome,” said Thornton. “And I know it’s going to get better.”
Thornton is undecided on college but she hopes to throw as an athlete and wants to go to a Division I school that is near Denison. But first, there is this business of a state meet.
“I’m finally going,” she said. “This is going to be good.”
For long jumper Icis Finley, it was ‘good news.’
“I had to wait four or five days,” she explained. “And I was nervous.”
After the top two finishers in each of four regions, this year the UIL also includes the next best time or distance from across the state regardless of region. Finley was number nine in the long jump in Class 4A.
“It feels great,” she smiled. “Especially after not doing track last year.”
Finley was third in the regional long jump with a personal best jump of 18 feet five and a half inches. She thinks she can get over nineteen feet.
“I have it in me,” she said. “I just haven’t exploded yet.”
For the past two weeks, Finley has been doing specialized practices to increase her strength and distance along with perfecting her form.
“It is an individualized workout and I think it will make me better,” she explained. “I’m focusing on the long jump and I am believing.”
The DHS junior has been doing the long jump since sixth grade and took second at the national youth meet when she was in the age 9-10 division. But she also loves basketball.
“I love both; I’ll see where things take me,” said Finley.
So far, track has taken her to the highest level: the state track meet.
Based on the regional times and distances, Parker is third; Thornton is in eighth position and Finley is fifth while Softly is in the middle of the pack going into competition Friday.
Sherman Coach Curry made the double-edged sword of a motivational deal with her girls that if at least one of them qualified for the state meet, she would get a Mohawk!
One can imagine how Curry felt when Softly finished second in the high jump on May 3.
“I’m going to wait until after state; it would be unprofessional,” laughed Curry. “But I’m going to do it! Hey, do you know anyone who does those?!”