Quickly taking a big leap forward

Track and field: JaNay Woolridge, who never ran track until high school, will compete tomorrow in the long jump at the Penn Relays.

Sports Beat

Howard County schools

April 27, 2005|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

For Long Reach's All-American long jumper JaNay Woolridge, high school has been a time for discovering her talent.

It also has been a time for finding the people who recognize that talent.

Woolridge has been fortunate in both respects.

Scheduled to compete in the long jump tomorrow at the Penn Relays after signing for a track scholarship Monday with Missouri, the senior never long-jumped until her junior year and never ran track until high school.

"I didn't even know that club track teams existed," said her mother, Renee Cooper, a three-sport athlete at Pocomoke on the Eastern Shore, a school that had no track team. Her mother played volleyball, basketball and softball at Pocomoke.

Woolridge's track potential was recognized by Long Reach basketball coach Kevin Broadus as she ran sprints for the junior varsity basketball team.

"Everyone told me I was fast, and Coach Broadus told me to go out for the track team in the spring," Woolridge said.

JaNay had played softball since fourth grade, but she didn't hesitate to make the switch.

She helped the Lightning win a state track title her freshman year while performing mostly on relay teams, including the state champion 800-meter relay team. She was hooked.

In her sophomore year, she won the regional 300 hurdles and was heading for the state championship until she hit a hurdle and fell.

That damaged her confidence, and she was reluctant to run hurdles again until she found out what went wrong.

In her junior year, under new coach Greg Johnson, she began long jumping, and jumped 17 feet, 9 inches, a phenomenal first-year effort that was good for third in the state behind her first-place teammate, Tiffani Long.

That was just a start, however.

Last summer and fall, she worked two days a week with former University of Maryland track coach Bill Goodman, and he improved her long jump and her hurdling.

"He taught me how to do short hurdles, changed my long jump approach and showed me how to switch legs for the 300 hurdles," said Woolridge, who has a 3.88 weighted grade point average and wants to be a dermatologist.

With her confidence bolstered, the senior won her first big indoor invitational at Virginia Tech on Jan. 29 by jumping 18-3, her first jump over 18 feet. It came on the last jump of the day.

Then, after jumping 18-4 1/4 and finishing fourth in the long jump at the Nike Indoor National High School Championships on March 12-13, Woolridge found herself designated an All-American.

"I'm always out to do the best I can," she said. "I never quit. I can't let it go."

A self-proclaimed late bloomer, Woolridge also won the state indoor 55-meter hurdles and anchored the state runner-up 800 relay team last winter. She won four gold medals at the county indoor championships.

"Other kids have talent," said Goodman, the Maryland coach for 15 years until he retired in 2003. "What sets her apart is her burning desire to be good. She's willing to do whatever it takes to fix a problem. I would have recruited her. She has good speed, a great neuromuscular system, is a good jumper and a fast learner. "

Woolridge said her inspiration and her ability comes from her mom.

"She was a big high school athlete, and she's always pushing me, even on the days I don't feel like working," Woolridge said. "She's a real track mom who does our team fund raising and organized our Penn Relay trip."

Although JaNay has always contributed to the seven-time defending county championship team's success, Woolridge hasn't always been a star at Long Reach, where the history of outstanding track athletes is long. She has had to bide her time.

"Until this year she's always played second fiddle to other girls and has given up her individual talent to help us in relays," said Johnson, who provides Woolridge with her conditioning workouts.

"Anywhere else she'd have been a star sooner. But now it's time to shine the spotlight on her. She's the cornerstone of our team. She has the ability to focus and shut out all distractions and is able to analyze her jumps and races and make changes. Her goal is to be the best she can be, and she leaves no door closed that would enable her to achieve that."

Her mom, a law librarian, describes her daughter as "a perfectionist."

"She's always organized, is mature beyond her years and won't stop until she does her best. She's struggled a lot. She didn't get the right attention at first. And the fall [state 300] messed up her confidence. But Coach Goodman built her confidence really well. And Coach Johnson has been a wonderful teacher."

Now that she's competing in both hurdles events as well as the long jump, Woolridge's star is rising.

She finished second to 3A state record-holder Theresa Lewis of Western in the 100 high hurdles at the Hendricks Invitational on April 16, a great performance for someone in her first season of running the 100.

"I was always a relay girl, but now I'm getting to pursue my goals," she said.

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