Battle of the Pentathletes Coming to NBNi

by Elliott Denman

NEW YORK -      They've been making predictions about Kendell Williams's  manifest destiny in track and field for over 10 years.

 As she remembers it, "My brother was playing on a travel baseball team and we were all coming back home from games in Rome, Ga.  We had a stop on the way back, and all the boys started having their races.

 "Well, I joined in, too; I was only 7 then, and I outran all the boys."

 Her dad, Blane Williams, rushed to this obvious conclusion:  "We've got to find this girl some track shoes."

 Well, he soon did just that and it's been one superb thing after another ever since for this now-senior at Kell High School in Kennesaw, Ga. 

Lo and behold, 17-year-old Kendell Williams has grown into one of the nation's most multi-talented high schoolers,  taking great leaps and bounds ever since her freshman year.

 She'll head to New York March 8-9-10 as the two-time pentathlon champion of the New Balance Indoor Championships and has her heart set on running-jumping-throwing her way to a three-peat at Manhattan's Armory Track and Field Center.

 Kennesaw Kendell  did it in 2011 (registering 3,792 points.)  She repeated in 2012 (totaling 3,740.)  And now that her senior year has rolled around, she'd like nothing better than etching her names in the meet's archives as a three-peater, and maybe even taking a run at the NBIN meet record of 3,823 totaled by Methacton, Pa.'s Ryann Krais in 2008.

Her route back to the top, though, may be tougher than ever before.

Williams's  list of leading  2013 challengers will include Alex Harmon-Thomas,. the Lawrence, Kansas junior who placed fifth in the NBIN pentathlon last year and is now the national co-leader in the high jump (at 5-10), and Felecia Majors,. the South County High, Lorton, Va. senior, who has been starring in  up to seven events a meet on the Virginia track circuit and is the national long jump leader.

So it's no wonder that followers of the sport are bursting with anticipation.  The pentathlon - always a numbers game - figures to kick off the Saturday morning program of the NBIN in classic style.  It gets going with the 60-meter hurdles at 8:15 a.m. and aficionados of the multis-game came can hardly wait. 

Modesty defines Williams, along with her numbers. 

The  Kell High senior is a scholar-athlete (sporting a 3.70 grade-point average) who, just as you'd expect, is being courted by many of the nation's top intercollegiate powers.

Her best prediction for NBIN success at the Armory is no prediction at all.  "Whatever happens, happens," she says. "If I win again, that's great; if I don't, well so be it.

"Actually, I can't wait to get to New York for Nationals. But I'm never one to make predictions, either."   She'll leave that part to the sport's many numbers-crunchers.

 Her  only analysis:  "I do know there will be some intensity out there on the Armory track."  Which is putting it rather mildly. 

 Just as it is with some of her friendly rivals, the pentathlon will be just part of her hectic schedule in The  Big Apple.  She's the defending champion in the individual high jump (where she equaled the Armory record of 5-11 1/4 in 2012) and also hopes to medal in the 60 hurdles and long jump.

 Soon as NBIN is over, though, she'll have to focus on her next big order of business - picking her collegiate destination.

 She couldn't miss at homestate University of Georgia - after all, big  brother Devon is already a freshman UGa. Bulldog, starring as a top multis prospect and fourth-placer in the recent SEC heptathlon  event.  But she couldn't miss at Florida or LSU, other ardent suitors, either.  She's made official visits to all three and is  still actively weighing all options.  With women's track and field now an increasingly high-profile sport - especially in Southeastern Conference-land - her decision is eagerly awaited.

 "I just wish I could train more for all this, but I keep really-really busy this time of the year," she tells you, discussing her full agenda.

 Williams and several classmates play active roles in the work of the Community Outreach Program which, among its many projects, provides the sustenance Atlanta's homeless need to start the process of turning  their lives around.  She's active, too, in the projects of the Calvary Christian Home, whose mission is to provide a safe, loving environment for children needing placement apart from their families.

The NBIN has been a great environment for Williams, too.

She made her debut at the nation's biggest scholastic meet back in 2010 and was an immediate smash success.   All she did was come within just 39 points of taking the pentathlon title - as a freshman!

Tennessee's Maddie Treasure won it with 3,600 points but Williams was right on her trail, and her 3,561 total demolished the previous national freshman record of 3,485 set by Florida's Jenny Utecht in 2002.   Williams's   record-breaking frosh scorecard read: 8.24 in the 60 hurdles, 5-7 high jump, 26-9 3/4 shot put, 18-5 long jump and 2:35.39 800.

 She improved in four of the five events in rolling to the 2011 NBIN crown, registering marks of 8.07, 5-9 1/4, 26-0 1/4, 19-4 and 2:31.30.

 And she did even better in three of the five in claiming the 2012 title, with performances of 7.99, 5-10, 30-0, 18-9, and 2:41.43.  The hurdles mark and the two jumps netted individual firsts as she won it all by 60 points over Amherst, N.Y.'s  Stephanie Izard, now at Cornell. 

Williams's track and field philosophy has always been straightforward: 

"There are no secrets, just work hard at it, keep improving your craft, and have fun with it."

 Her list of track and field heroines is understandably topped by world record-holder/ Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee.   Like so many, the jumps, the sprints and hurdles came relatively easy to her.  It's the throws and longer-runs areas that will need extra work.  That's exactly the path the great JJK followed to reach the top - doing all the needed extra work, and then even more . 

Williams's track outlook  mirrors JJK's in another important way:  It's not just local or regional or national.  It's global.

 Two summers ago, she qualified for the USA team bound for the IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France, and earned a bronze medal in the 100-meter hurdles, clocking a sizzling 13.28.

 "That was just a phenomenal experience," she said.  "I met all these great people from all over, lots of European countries,  Africa, Australia, Canada, you name it.  That really opened my eyes."

 Her early-August 2013 target:  The Pan American Junior Championships in Lima, Peru. 

Alexa Harmon-Thomas, too, is already well-traveled, as a young veteran of the domestic Junior National and Junior Olympic circuits.

She's at her best in the jumps - with PRs of 18-7 in the LJ and 5-10 1/4 in the HJ - but is working on her shot put (now up to 33 feet) and 800 (she hopes to run 2:30), too.

Beyond high school, she knows she couldn't go wrong staying right in Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas .  With another year to go in high school, though, she'll continue weighing all options. 

At Lawrence High, she's active in the Pre-Med Club as well as the FCA.  With a 4.0 grade point average - not a single B on her ledger - she knows many doors, both academic and athletic, will surely open for her.

Harmon-Thomas's outlook on track is long-term, too:  "I want to have a great career in college and then go pro," she says.   Training under international veteran/former national champion high jumper Gwen Wentland has put these longer-term goals into clearer focus. 

"I just really enjoy competing in track," she says. "There's always something new to point for, always another meet to test you." 

 Snowed out of one late February meet, that's made her over-eager to get to the Armory.

 Many states have a three-event limit per meet, but it's different in Virginia.  And that's how Felecia Majors has been tested in up to seven different ways over a long weekend.

Feb. 22-23, for instance, at the Virginia State Group AAA Meet  at Hampton's Boo Williams Sportsplex. 

Writer Brandon Miller analyzed her Hampton exploits this way: 

"After her performance at the  Group AAA  Meet, South County senior Majors may have cemented herself as the greatest of all-time in Virginia high school track history.

"Majors scored the most points ever in the history of the state meet as her 49 points among six individual events propelled the South County team by herself to the state team title.

"Majors was a repeat state champion in two events, the pole vault and long jump, achieving her first 20-foot mark in the long jump and improving upon her US #1 ranking with a 20-0 final attempt, then taking the vault at 12-0. "

In apparently constant motion around the Hampton venue, she placed fourth in the high jump (at 5-6), second in the triple jump (38- 4 1/4), second in the 500 meters (1:13.62) and second again in the 300 (39.46.)

Completing her huge weekend, Majors clocked a 56.0 anchor split on South County's sixth-place 4x400 relay team.

 With all these efforts, Majors's pentathlon potential is obvious.  Fact is, she's already thinking like a multis-person.

 "I think of every possible way to try to conserve energy for my other events," she told writer Miller.

 "That's usually my plan for the day but sometimes it doesn't work out because I get carried away in some events and do more than I'm supposed to.

 "Physically, though, I am trained to be able to do it all because it's just the way practice is for me, but ten times harder. That way I'm already prepared.."

So when South County coach T.D. Holsclaw tells you that "Felecia Majors is an incredible talent," you know it's the truth, the whole truth.

 "She's a hard worker who doesn't complain, and a very nice kid at the same time.

 "She has this great inner drive, something all the other greats always have."

 Amid all this action, Majors carried a 3.3 GPA and had her pick of top college opportunities.  South Carolina, Alabama, Tulane and Cincinnati were active recruiters...but her decision was Tennessee.

Joining the Volunteers seems a perfect choice.  After all, anytime her South County team ever needed a few more points here, a few more there, it's always been Felecia Majors volunteering to go get 'em.

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