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All-Metro girls track and field athlete of the year: Wood River's Ulrich set new standards in dominant senior season
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All-Metro girls track and field athlete of the year: Wood River's Ulrich set new standards in dominant senior season

From the 2021 All-Metro girls track and field series
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The morning after Jayden Ulrich was crowned prom queen, she bench pressed 200 pounds.

The greatest track and field athlete to walk the halls of Wood River High, Ulrich showed up to her upper body workout that Sunday and celebrated by ripping through her routine, which included benching 200 pounds twice.

“There’s not another prom queen in the America that can do that,” longtime Wood River track and field coach Russ Colona said.

There are few in the nation who can do what Ulrich has done, and none of them live in Illinois. A recent graduate, Ulrich capped her magnificent high school career by claiming Class 2A state titles in the shot put and discus, earning All-American honors (again) and — along the way — setting overall state records in both events.

Ulrich’s utter dominance makes her the choice for Post-Dispatch All-Metro girls track and field athlete of the year.

The 5-foot-8 powerhouse competed in 18 meets as a senior and went undefeated. It wasn’t until last week at the National Throws Festival in suburban Cleveland that Ulrich found herself trailing on the leaderboard. Ulrich had the lead in the shot put heading into the final round of attempts. Schuylkill Valley’s Ashlyn Giles, who dominated Pennsylvania much like Ulrich did Illinois this spring, went ahead on her last throw.

“She was beating me by two inches,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich, 18, didn’t like that much at all.

On her final attempt, Ulrich unleased a put of 49 feet and 4.5 inches to win by nearly half a foot.

When it came time to compete in the discus, Ulrich treated a collection of the nation’s best throwers like she treated her home-state competition all spring.

She let them battle for second place.

With rain falling and puddles in the throwing ring, Ulrich let loose a throw of 167-8. It was a full 19 feet better than Giles, who was the runner-up.

That’s the same Giles whose personal best throws this year ranked ahead of Ulrich on Milesplit’s national leaderboard in both discus and shot put.

“She loves a challenge,” Colona said.

Class 2A girls track and field state championship

Wood River's Jayden Ulrich competes in the shot put during the Class 2A girls state track and field meet on Friday, June 11, 2021 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

The toughest challenge Ulrich faced this spring was finding a way to bring the best out of herself when none of her competitors could push her.

Ulrich set the state discus record May 26 when she hit her personal best of 168 feet, 1.75 inches, at the Popeye and Olive Oyl Invite in Chester. It broke Illinois' old record of 167-8 set by Edwardsville legend Emmonnie Henderson in 2013.

No other thrower in the state came within 18 feet of her.

Ulrich was just as impressive in shot put, where she let loose a state-record setting effort of 51 feet, 10.75 inches, at the Collinsville Invitational on May 14. That pushed her in front of Mahomet-Seymour’s Danielle Bunch, who set the previous record of 51 feet, 10.75 inches, in 2008 according to the Illinois High School Association online record book.

Grayslake Central’s Julia Reglewski had Illnois' second-best shot put mark of the season at 48-5, more than three feet short of Ulrich.

With no one to make her sweat, Ulrich had to compete with herself.

“It is really hard not being able to have someone push you physically,” Ulrich said. “It’s a mental battle between you and yourself.”

Ulrich has the disposition to be successful in those situations. She’s driven to excel. When the coronavirus pandemic canceled spring sports last year and put much of the nation into quarantine, Ulrich continued to prepare for whatever was next — be it her senior year or the start of her collegiate career. Ulrich signed with Indiana University in November, when there was no guarantee spring sports would return.

“We probably only missed two weight days the last two years,” Colona said. “We lift four times a week and throw six days a week. We make it work. We have a lot of laughs out there.”

Ulrich and Colona will get the chance to have a few more laughs as they prepare to compete June 30-July 3 in the Nike Outdoor Nationals at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, on the campus of the University of Oregon.

The competition should be the best Ulrich has seen during her decorated high school career. Colona thinks it will bring the best out of her.

“When she gets excited hopefully we’ll see something really good,” he said.

Ulrich is tickled by the chance to compete at nationals for the second time; the first was after her sophomore year when she won her first state championship in the shot put. But what makes it even more thrilling is that she’ll be in the same throwing ring being used during Team USA’s Olympic qualifying meet this week. It’s the same ring where the men’s shot put world record was set last week by Ryan Crouser.

“It’s going to be a huge honor to throw in that ring,” Ulrich said. “I feel like going out there I’ll have the mentality that (the Olympic trial competitors) did what they wanted to do and now I want to do what I came to do.”

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