ARTHUR — Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond's Kenli Nettles took home three silver medals at the Class 1A State Track and Field Meet in May, but it was her eighth-place finish that was the most impressive.
Nettles, a sophomore, finished second in the high jump, the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles, and added an eighth place in the triple jump.
While the other three events have been center points of Nettles' track practice for years, she picked up the triple jump almost randomly two months before the state.
"I just kind of taught myself and the boys head coach (Bryton Ragon) helped me get the form down a little," she said. "Our other high jumper, Kobe Wells, he kind of brought it up to the coach and he said, ‘I think I want to triple jump. I have a natural jumping ability.’ And so after watching him do it for about a week I thought about it and I asked my coach and got her approval to work with the boys coach."
Nettles' strong state performance made her the Herald & Review's Area Girls Track Runner of the Year.
Her performance at state blew her expectations away.
"My goal this year was just to place in two (events), let alone all four. I thought that was amazing and I could not thank my coaches enough for helping the way they did," Nettles said. "In the 100 hurdles my goal this year was to break a 15 (seconds) and I ran a 14.91. But I was so pleased with myself, getting three second-places, honestly, it is so fantastic."
Competing in four events wore Nettles down but receiving some exciting news energized her for the 100 hurdles finals.
"As soon as high jump ended I went to 100 hurdles and I think all the energy from having one of my best friends tell me that I had placed in triple jump when I thought I wasn’t going to pushed me over those hurdles," she said.
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Although she finished second, Nettles said her high jump performance could have been better.
"I think my best event is the high jump. That’s what I was trying to do my best in," she said. "My high jump at state wasn’t the greatest, it was a 5-5 jump. It was a good jump, I had good clearance over it, my other jumps were just … I had no legs left over from my other jumps and going back and forth (to other events). Going from high jump to triple jump and then back and forth is really tiring and my legs were feeling it for sure."
Nettles is eyeing one particular height at next year's high jump finals — 5-11.
That's the 1A high jump record set by Melinda Morris from Buffalo Tri-City in 1980 and it is what Nettles is gunning for.
"I think with my summer track work it will help me get that height," she said. "I’ve been working with the St. Thomas More high jump coach Caleb Ball, he’s my high jump coach for summer track and working with an actual high jump coach will help me for sure get that height that I want to be at."
Nettles is looking to cut some serious time from her other events and is toying with adding a fifth event to her repertoire.
"I would like to improve my hurdle time and maybe run a 14.5 and then my 300-hurdles I want to run a 44," she said. "In triple jump it would be nice to get more distance on that jump and I would also like to start running the open 400-meters just at some meets. I ran it once during summer track."
Although Nettles has played volleyball, basketball and cheered for ALAH in the past, Nettles has now cut it down to just track ... and football.
Nettles will be patrolling the ALAH sidelines Friday evenings in the fall as the Knight's team manager.
"I normally do stats and I help around with the team, carry equipment. Football has been a big part of my life since I played for four years in (junior football league)," she said. "I have decided that my heart is into track and I know that I’m going to go and run college track. I specialized, I’m the football manager and I run track."
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten