GREENSBORO — Asun Pender picked a great time to post a personal record in the triple jump Saturday at the NCHSAA 2-A track and field championship meet.
The Beddingfield High junior soared 44 feet, 4.75 inches on his second of five jumps at Marcus T. Johnson Track on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University. That gave Pender the lead, which he held after he had completed his five jumps, but Midway’s Jamir McCrae and Khamoni Robinson were just a quarter-inch behind Pender and each had one jump remaining.
“You know, I was sitting there watching him and I said you know he’s a round of jumps from being a state champion right now,” Bruins head coach Ben Ellis said in a telephone interview Saturday evening. “And then they got him at the end.”
Indeed, McCrae and Robinson both produced PR jumps in their final attempt with McCrae landing 45-10.5 from his launch spot to win the state title while Robinson leapt 45-6.75 to snatch second place away from Pender.
“It was shocking,” Pender said. “When I saw going into last jump what all of us had and that I was first, I just thought the whole time that this was too good to be true. And then they got their PRs and I was like, ‘Uh, well, that’s something.’
“But I was happy with everything else, happy that I got on the podium still, but the main thing I was happy about was increasing my PR by the amount that I did. Yeah, it was a surreal feeling!”
Pender was joined by teammate Nolan Gamwell, who also had a career day at the state meet. The junior distance runner ran the 1,600 meters in a personal-best 4 minutes, 45.56 seconds to finish 11th overall.
“I am really, really proud of both of those guys,” Ellis said. “They did about as much as you could ask of them and more today, so they were happy to go and then they did really well when they went there. So that was really good. I was really proud of both of them.”
Pender’s performance was the pinnacle of a season that saw him really only participate in track part-time since he started for the Bruins baseball team (after starting in football and track earlier this school year. Ellis said that he thought Pender had set PRs in the last three meets of the season.
“With his triple, Asun just has been so consistent,” Ellis said. “I’ll be honest, that’s one thing that kind of stands out about him. He’s just so consistent, never scratches and lately, he’s never fallen below 41 feet. I mean, very rarely is he falling below that. To win meets and go to states and do all this, you’ve got to be very consistent. And he’s done that and then some.”
Pender said that he started working on speeding up his approach and working on the second phase of the trip after being stuck on 42 feet for what seemed all season. But then it all started to click for him at the 2-A Neuse 6 Conference meet he won with a leap of 41-7 before finishing third at the 2-A East Regional with a 43-2 jump.
Now Ellis wants to see what Pender can do now that he’s seen what he can do in track.
“On top of us not really having our track available (due to renovation) to him, he played baseball pretty much all year and came to a couple of meets or so he would have enough meets to go to the conference championship and all that,” Ellis said. “I would love to see what he can do once he really, really gets into it now that he knows how good he can be. But he’s just a great athlete. He’s done it all for us this year in every sport. He’s turned out to be one of the better athletes in the county in my opinion.”
Pender said he plans to add indoor track to his busy schedule next year and is already looking forward to outdoor track.
“So it’s gonna be another pretty swamped year but I’m ready for it!” he assured.
PRIDGEN’S TRIPLE TOP-10
While Pender enjoyed the top finish of any athlete in the Times readership area at any of the state track championship meets, nobody had a better all-around day than SouthWest Edgecombe senior Jer’Lisah Pridgen, who was in the top 8 in all three of her events. She placed fourth in the 2-A girls high jump, eighth in the 100 dash and ended her day by taking fifth in the 200.
Pridgen, who has signed with North Carolina State University for heptathlon (seven events), hit her seed height of 5-0 in the high jump but freshman D’Anna Cotton of Burlington Cummings cleared 5-6 for the gold medal.
She ran a 12.58 in finishing sixth in the 100 prelims. However, in the finals, Pridgen dipped to 12.68 and came in eighth. The race was won by South Granville’s Shawnti Jackson, who set a meet record with her time of 11.33 that broke the school and state meet record of 11.9 set in 1986 Vanessa Smith, also of South Granville.
Jackson also won the 200 with another national top 10 time of 22.71 seconds that shattered her previous best of 24.4. Pridgen’s fifth-place time of 25.75 didn’t come close to her personal best of 25.35 but it did wrap up an outstanding day for her as she scored 10 points, the only SWE athlete to do so Saturday.
The SWE boys 4×400 relay team finished ninth, one place out a point, in 3:31.62. Senior Princeton Loch placed 12th in the boys long jump with a distance of 19-2.25 and 15th in the triple jump with a 37-8.5 effort. Cougars senior Keyshaun Powell was 12th in the boys discus at 114-3.
Samantha Boswell and Brian Jones each placed in the top 10 for North Johnston. Boswell came in eighth in girls discus with a 92-6 throw while Jones finished 10th in the boys 400 inn 52.25. The Panthers also put two boys relays in the top 10 as the 4×100 was seventh in 43.53 and the 4×200 was 10th in 1:32.30. The 4×800 unit finished 12h in 9:10.30.
Greene Central’s Marshaylah Sutton had a big day in throws with a fourth-place finish in girls shot put, tossing it 36-3.75. She was also seventh in discus with a 93-5 throw.
D.J. Williams was ninth in boys high jump at 6-0 while Jamari Coppage took 11th in the long jump at 19-7.75. The Rams 4×200 relay was sixth in 1:30.24.