Leader Blues

Friday, May 30, 2008

SPORTS>> Searcy sophomore settles for second

Leader sports editor

What is it with Searcy sophomores and the heptathlon?

Two years ago, it was Whitney Jones who burst on the scene by winning the event, when she edged out Russellville senior Emily Miles.

Jones didn’t exactly surprise anyone the following year when she repeated the feat, and would have been going for an unprecedented third heptathlon title this week at Cabot’s Panther Stadium except for a nagging hamstring injury that kept her out of the competition.

But following in her footsteps is another Searcy sophomore star-in-the-making — Kristen Celsor. Though Celsor couldn’t quite reach Jones’ height of glory in 2006, she was pretty happy after finishing second on Thursday to Jasmine Ellis of Nashville.

Cabot’s Emily Carpenter posted the best time in the 800 meters at 2 minutes, 25.51 seconds, and finished 32nd overall, one place behind teammate Marissa De La Paz. De La Paz ran a sixth-best 2:33.86 in the 800.

Celsor entered Day 2 in fifth place and with two of her better events on tap — the high jump, which she won at the Meet of Champs last week — and the 800 meters.

But Searcy track coach Charlie Carroll’s analysis proved all too prescient.

“If Ellis has a good day high jumping — if she goes 5-2 or 5-3 — that may seal the deal for her,” Carroll said shortly before the first event of Day 2 got under way. “If she goes 4-10 and Kristen goes 5-5, like she did at the Meet of Champs, you’ve got a cat race then, brother.”

Unfortunately, for Celsor, very nearly the opposite occurred. Ellis, who finished third last year, wound up going 5-3, while Celsor managed only 5-2 and lost points in an event she needed to gain ground in.

“I don’t know if it would have made any difference, but I would have felt better,” Celsor said of her high jump performance.

“My steps were off in the beginning, and I was more long jumping than high jumping.”

With two events to go, Celsor still had a chance to draw within shouting distance by picking up points in the shot put. But Ellis was up to it once more, beating last year’s toss by nearly two feet with her 30-foot, 6-inch heave. Celsor hit her goal with 28-1, but lost valuable points.

That meant that Celsor had to beat Ellis by a nearly impossible 37 seconds in the 800 meters.

“That’s a lot of time,” Celsor conceded afterwards.

So, while finishing first was her stated goal entering the heptathlon on Wednesday, second place became the focus entering the final event. To do that, she merely had to stay within six seconds of Pine Bluff’s Kanesha Hicks. No problem. Hicks, who was the odds-on favorite to win the heptathlon after Jones scratched, ran a solid 2:34.94 in the 800, but Celsor was right behind her at 2:35.20 to outpoint Hicks by 75.

“I’m really happy with second, though I really wanted to get first,” said Celsor, who Carroll compares to Jones in terms of her demeanor and competitiveness. “But I knew it would really be difficult because they’ve been here before, and they’re just really good athletes.”

Searcy junior Shalisha Anth-ony, the heir-apparent to Jones last year, rallied from a hamstring injury from Day 1 to finish 25th overall. After faltering down the stretch last year, Anthony finished strong in Thursday’s events, going 4-10 in the high jump and posting a 2:46.02 in the 800.

“She had a good second day, and I’m excited about that,” Carroll said. “She kind of let down on Day 2 last year. We talked about that the whole year. I told her I wanted her to compete in every event.

“I give her credit. She was a warrior this year. She’s been under Whitney’s shadow and that’s not easy. But you have to create your own shadow.”

Carroll said Jones was disappointed at being denied a chance at history with a possible third heptathlon title. But he thinks she made the right choice. The Arkansas signee will begin running track for the Lady Razorbacks this fall.

“She knew if she got hurt in the hurdles or the 200 — the only two events here that could hurt her — that’s going to put her back six or seven weeks. That’s almost the fall and she’d be showing up to Fayetteville on an untested leg.”

As for Celsor, Carroll thinks she may be ready to start casting her own shadow.

“Kristen is like Whitney, even though they’re in opposite events,” he said. “Their mannerisms are very similar. They’re to themselves and they’re quiet. They don’t need a pep rally before they go out there.

“She throws some humor at you just to defuse the situation. But she understands the situation.”
Celsor credited Jones’ past feats with inspiring her and Anthony.

“Whitney has been a good role model for Shalisha and I,” she said. “We look up to her, and whenever she sets a goal, we want to try and reach it.”

Celsor said her first heptathlon was hard work, but fulfilling.

“Yeah, it was really fun,” she said, before acknowledging the more grueling aspects of the event. “Props to anyone who does this.”