As a freshman in 2019, Pendleton's Samuel Jennings appeared to have a bright future in track and field when he threw the javelin 181 feet, seven inches to finish fourth in the 5A meet.
Then 2020 came, and everything went dark.
Now Jennings, a junior, finally is back to competing, and he is once again showing flashes of his vast potential. Last week, he uncorked a state-best throw of 198-11, breaking the previous school record of 186-10, set by Geoff Herd in 2009.
Jennings threw 187-8 in intrasquad competition in February but it did not count as a school record. In his first two meets this season, he built momentum by hitting 177-9 ½ and 185-3.
“We knew he had one of those in him,” Pendleton coach Larry Brizendine said. “I'm thinking he'll get a 200-plus here soon.”
With his throw, Jennings moved past Sherwood senior Asher Krauel (193-7) and Eagle Point senior Austin Strawn (191-7) to the top of the state-best list.
Brizendine said the Pendleton staff has been tracking Jennings' progress since he was in youth track.
“We knew about him because he was throwing the turbo javelin in middle school and he was really launching them,” Brizendine said. “So we knew coming in that he was going to be pretty good. We didn't realize just how good. As soon as he hit high school, we knew he was something special.”
Jennings has fine-tuned his technique and footwork under the tutelage of throws coach Nicole Bowden. It helps that he has filled out to 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.
“The kid has done nothing but get bigger and stronger and faster,” Brizendine said.
Jennings also is the team's second-fastest sprinter, running the 100 meters in 11.70 on April 22. He ran the anchor on a 4x400 relay that finished in 3:42.57, ranked No. 6 in 5A. His best relay split is 54.3.
“We finally talked him into running the 100 and being the anchor on the 4x400,” Brizendine said. “We were worried that he was going to throw his arm out because that's all he was doing was throwing. We've got him doing all sorts of stuff now. He was really hesitant, especially about the 400. He's one of those kids, whatever you put him in, he'd probably be pretty good at it.”
With size and speed, Jennings is coming into his own as an athlete.
“I know the football coaches wish he would play,” Brizendine said. “But he really likes being a trackster. Great athlete, and a really coachable, great kid, too. Really fun to have on our team. He's really being a leader on our team lately, I noticed, which is really fun to see.”
The best race of the season took place Saturday in the Phillips-Klimek Distance Twilight meet at Phoenix.
A highly competitive 3,000 boys final produced the four fastest times in the state this season: Ashland senior Cameron Stein (8:18.89), South Medford junior Michael Maiorano (8:19.95), Ashland senior Reed Pryor (8:21.10) and Crater sophomore Tyrone Gorze (8:35.60).
The 5-9 Stein, who has committed to Oregon as a preferred walk-on, overtook the long-striding Maiorano with one lap remaining and used his closing speed to hold on for the victory. He recorded a personal best by 21 seconds.
It was one of the fastest races in state history. Stein, Maiorano and Pryor registered on the state's all-time list at No. 14, No. 16 and No. 18, respectively.
“It was a great race to watch,” said Ashland distance coach Karl Pryor. “The way they worked together through the race, and just duking it out, it says a lot about where the three of them are at right now, just in terms of how they respect each other and really like each other. They put on quite a show.”
Stein and Reed Pryor entered the meet going after the No. 2 time on Ashland's all-time list of 8:25, set by David Morgan in 2005. They not only eclipsed that mark, they pushed EJ Holland's school record of 8:13.10 from 2019. Holland's time is No. 4 in state history.
“Both Cam and Reed said afterward, 'It was hard, but it wasn't really that hard,'” Karl Pryor said. “I think for Cam, EJ's record is definitely within the realm. They're not done. I think they're going to run faster this year. We haven't done a ton of speed work, so I think they haven't found their top gear.”
Maiorano blew away the South Medford school record with his performance.
Stein and Pryor are ranked first and second in the state, respectively, in the 1,500.
Paul sets mark
West Albany senior thrower Aiden Paul broke a 49-year-old school record last week.
Paul threw the shot 57-7 ½ in a dual meet with Lebanon to wipe out a mark that had stood since 1972. He also holds the school record in the discus (180-3). He leads all classifications in the discus and tops 5A in the shot.
Paul has a 4.0 grade point average and is on track to be valedictorian. He is headed to Stanford, where he plans to continue competing in track and field.
Gervais senior Brian Limage ran the 200 in 22.64 last week to break a school record that had stood for 46 years. Limage, who placed third in the 400 at the 2A meet as a sophomore, leads 2A in the 100 (11.22) and 200.