As I talked with Jessica January on Thursday, I asked two straightforward questions.
Q: What is your favorite sport?
Q: What is your dream job?
A: Playing in the WNBA.
OK, then, the ninth-grader from Richfield must be a basketball star, right? Well, yes, she was the second-leading scorer for the Spartans last winter. She plays volleyball, too.
But the place where she really stands out is the track. The 15-year-old – whose birthday is in, yes, January -- will make her third trip to the Class 2A state meet next week, and she already has broken a state record … twice.
Must be nice: being a freshman, setting state records and being a heavy favorite to win at least one state championship … in your second-favorite sport.
“This is my third year with her,” said Richfield assistant track coach Beth Johnson, who coaches the hurdlers. “I can’t believe I get three more years with her.”
There’s a lot that’s hard to believe about Jessica January. She went to state for the first time as a seventh-grader and placed ninth in the 100-meter hurdles. As an eighth-grader last year she finished second in the 100 hurdles, seventh in the 300-meter hurdles and also advanced to state in the long jump (she didn't place in the top nine).
The fireworks got hotter this spring. She broke a 16-year-old state record in the 100 hurdles, winning in 14.33 seconds at the May 27 Classic Suburban Conference meet. She lowered the record to 14.30 Tuesday in the prelims of the 2A, Section 3 meet at Macalester College. The previous mark was 14.35, set by Woodbury’s Heidi Lundervold in 1994.
She didn’t set any state records in Thursday's Section 3 finals, but she did win both hurdle races and place second in the long jump.
Oh, she’s also a straight A student, a great role model and humble to the core.
“She’s amazing,” Richfield head coach Pat Burns said. “She wants to strive to do the best and be the best, and she’s extremely humble. She’s every coach’s dream.”
Burns first noticed January when she was in sixth-grade track and running as fast as the top kids on the varsity. Jessica also played softball, so the track coaches had to do some minor convincing to get her to put on running shoes.
She is gifted, certainly. “But she’s also the hardest worker you’ll see,” Burns said.
Johnson said that some early gymnastics training is part of the athletic mix for January. “Her form is very good naturally, and this year’s she running smoother and cleaner,” she said.
“And you talk about coachability; you tell her something and she gets it right the first time 90 percent of the time."
Jessica first tried running the hurdles in seventh grade.
“I just expected to get a workout,” she said. “I wasn’t really going for anything, to be good. But it was like, ‘OK, I kind of like this.’ ”
Then came that first trip to state, followed by another trip to state last spring, followed by her record-setting performances this spring.
Her favorite track event is the 100 hurdles (“I love the 100 hurdles. It’s short and sweet.”) Her goals for next week’s state track meet at Hamline University include winning the 100 hurdles and lowering the record even further.
So far in her young career, she has carried out every task and completed every assignment beyond anyone’s expectations.
Maybe the better question to ask is: What can’t she do?
She can’t fly. Can she?
UPDATING WEDNESDAY’S Journal reference to the Class 1A, Section 3 track championships in Montevideo, thanks to correspondent Joel Alvstad of the Cottonwood County Citizen in Windom.
Via text message, here is Joel’s report: “Four girls moving on via standard in 100 hurdles. Defending state champion Bree Woelber of Pipestone finished third behind Katlyn Sawtell of Luverne and Jennie Romsdahl of Mt. Lake-Butterfield-Odin. Kaitlin Fell of MLBO also advanced by standard. She was fourth at state last year. Section 3 also has four girls moving on in the 300 hurdles via standard. Woelber of Pipestone took first.”
Thursday provided another fabulous setting for spring tournaments all over our state. Let's have more fun Friday and Saturday!
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