SHIPPENSBURG – Fort Cherry senior Jenna Lucas was a scrawny freshman in 2011 when her first season of varsity basketball came to an end.
Rangers’ track and field head coach Ben Maxin approached Lucas as he does every athlete who has walked the halls of the high school over the past decade.
“Why don’t you try running or jumping for the track team?” Maxin suggested.
Lucas wanted nothing to do with the sport. She was exhausted from basketball season and simply wanted a break, but Lucas has never been one to pass up a challenge.
The rest is history. The Central Florida recruit only needed one throw Saturday at Shippensburg University to claim her second straight PIAA Class AA championship in the javelin. Her first throw of 153-5 was 18 feet further than the second-place throw of Anna Bailey of Bishop McDevitt. Lucas’ other two throws went 151-6 and 144-6, respectively.
“I’m so happy that I did give it a try, because I am so happy with where I am right now,” Lucas said. “My first throw, most of the time, it’s my best one. I was preparing and trying to hit 160. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, but I’m super proud of myself for hitting 153. That’s still close to my (personal record), so I’m happy with it.”
She set her personal record at the WPIAL Class AA Southern Qualifier, 157-4, 10 feet further than her state title winning throw last year. Following in the footsteps of former teammate Jessie Merckle, the 2012 state champion in the javelin and current standout at Wake Forest, Lucas felt pressure coming into this season.
She can now breathe a sigh of relief, but the win did not come without stress. Lucas spent Friday night focusing on her technique and her competition, which included two throwers from Tamaqua High School.
“I was definitely feeling a little bit of pressure,” Lucas said. “(On Friday), I threw the discus, and I did really bad. I was hoping that I would regroup. Javelin is my thing, anyway. I’m going to go in there, do what I’ve been doing and not worry about anyone else except for me.”
The senior admits to not being a morning person, but an early-morning wake-up was inevitable with her event beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. The temperature was still in the 60s and a light breeze was blowing, but it worked to her advantage. Lucas’ first throw was her best, and she followed that with two other throws that would have been strong enough to win her the title.
“That’s why we really tried to focus on that first throw, because it’s easy to get tired late in the throws, especially when the sun comes up and it gets warm like it did,” Maxin said. “You do all those warm-up throws, and then you throw. It’s not ideal to have to put the pressure on by having to throw well at the end.”
Lucas worked side-by-side with Merckle, who recently won her second straight Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in the javelin. The 2012 graduate of Fort Cherry made a surprise visit to Shippensburg and spoke to Lucas after her first throw.
Lucas might not have broken the 160-foot mark, but she did not need to. She accomplished something Merckle did not – two state championships in the javelin. It was an ideal end to a long journey for a girl who almost avoided track altogether.
“I’m not a morning person, but I’m just happy because the weather was nice,” Lucas said. “I got up early, I ate a nice breakfast, and I’m glad that it’s over because it’s not too hot either, so it’s perfect. I’m extremely grateful for everything.”