Jamestown track star Jordan Willis named Daily Press Player of the Year

atoran@dailypress.com

Heading to the University of Virginia next season, Jamestown senior Jordan Willis put together a marvelous 2017 outdoor track and field campaign.

During the season, Willis set personal records in the 200 meters, 400 and the long jump — running 21.80 seconds in the 4A state meet, 47.94 in the Dogwood Track Classic and jumping 23 feet, 5 ¼ inches at state, respectively.

Willis' strong campaign would be capped by a dominating performance at state, as he swept every event he competed in, en route to winning four gold medals in the 200, 400, long jump and the 4x100 relay. He placed 30th in the 400 at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet last week, earning Daily Press boys track and field Athlete of the Year honors.

Willis and his coaching staff attributed this year's success to the maintenance of his body and an improved training regimen, which included an increased workload of weight-lifting. Ultimately, Willis' new training program and approach helped maintain his health.

"My coaches made sure I stayed healthy and didn't overwork myself," Willis said. "Last year I pulled my hamstring at the state meet, and so this year was just about recovery and getting back stronger."

"He became stronger because he started to concentrate more on lifting weights," said Clarence Willis, the father and co-sprint coach of Willis. "And that made him a stronger runner; he had more power."

Just a year ago, Willis pulled a hamstring during the 200-meter final, which cost him a shot at winning the state in his best event, the 400. This season, the Jamestown coaches made sure that this time around would not be a repeat — with Willis' body being worn down during the course of the 2016 season, which probably led to his pulled muscle in the state final.

This postseason, Willis did not run all four events during his conference meet, as he did in the state. He only competed in the 400, the long jump and the 200 at the conference meet — sitting out the 4x100. During the regional meet, Willis only ran the 400. Sparing Willis from an event here and there during the postseason proved to be helpful and gave his legs more life during the state meet, allowing him to perform at his peak en route to his four golds.

"He's a hard worker and a strong athlete," Clarence Willis said. "And part of that is, coaches knowing his previous performance and the way we trained him last year versus how we trained him this year. This year we knew, barring any hamstring issues, that he was going to execute well, and he did."

Despite the woes of his past attempts at state glory, Willis' perseverance would eventually lead him to triumph.

"Even though there are some downs in your running, you can always come back," Willis said.

ALL-STAR SELECTIONS

100 meters | Qhiyal Towns | Heritage | junior. Towns paced the area in this event for the second straight year with his season-best time of 10.51 seconds at the Dogwood Track Classic in Charlottesville in May. Towns also won the Group 4A state title.

200 | Qhiyal Towns | Heritage | junior. Towns raced to the 4A East regional title in 21.33 seconds, but a hamstring injury during the state meet denied him a shot at a championship there.

400 | Jordan Willis | Jamestown | senior. The University of Virginia signee earned one of his four Group 4A state titles with his 47.94 finish in this event.

800 | Miles Owens | Grafton | senior. The 1,000-meter state champion indoors, Owens completed a stellar senior year by winning the 4A state title at 800 outdoors in an area-best 1:54.33.

1,600 | Clint Gault | Poquoson | senior. After becoming the first Islander to win a state title in a running event during the indoor season, he added two more to his collection at the Group 3A outdoor meet: the 800 and the 1,600. His best time in the 1,600, though, came at the Dogwood Track Classic (4:14.64).

3,200 | Price Owens | Grafton | junior. Owens, ranked nationally in cross country and indoors, was the only area runner to break 9:20 outdoors in the 3,200, something he did twice.

110 hurdles | Timothy Payne | Heritage | junior. Payne set a personal-best time of 13.93 to win the Group 4A title, then matched that performance for a sixth-place finish in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet two weeks later.

300 hurdles | Burnell Pulley | Hampton | senior. He motored to a 5A state championship in 38.08.

400 relay | Phoebus (Maurice Brown, Damion Charity, Douglas Sessoms, Andre Jackson). Their time of 41.42 at the Penn Relays was the best in the area.

1,600 relay | Phoebus (Maurice Brown, Damion Charity, Douglas Sessoms, Andre Jackson). The Phantoms blazed their way to a 3:14.75 finish at the Penn Relays in April, which stood as the best in the state through the rest of the season.

3,200 relay | Grafton (Kyle Mells, Miles Owens, Price Owens, Samahd Walters). The Clippers ran an area-best 8:04.86 in the regionals, then ran 8:05 to finish third in the 4A state meet.

High jump | Andre Jackson | Phoebus | senior. Not only did Jackson win a Group 3A state championship as part of the 4x400 relay, he also took the title in the high jump (clearing 6 feet, 8 inches).

Pole vault | Griffin Kowal | New Kent | senior. Kowal holds onto his title as the top vaulter in the area, and one of the best in the state, by clearing 15-9 at the Shoot the Gun & Run Invitational in New Kent.

Long jump | Jordan Willis | Jamestown | senior. The second of Willis' state title performances to land him on this list, his winning jump measured 23-5 1/4. He also won gold medals in the 200 (21.80) and as a member of the 4x100 team (42.43).

Triple jump | Craig Long | Heritage | senior. Long leaped to an Ironclad Conference 18 title with an area-leading jump of 44-10 at Todd Stadium on May 18.

Shot put | Arndray Battle | Bruton | junior. His accomplishments included an area-best 47-6, a Conference 33 title and ninth place in the Group 2A state meet.

Discus | Jacob Atwood | Tabb | senior. Atwood took second at the Group 3A state meet with his throw of 162-0.

— Kate Yanchulis and Marty O'Brien

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