GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY | SEASON PREVIEW

H-F's MicKayla Jones applies youthful exuberance to cross country

2011-09-02T21:00:00Z 2011-09-02T21:50:39Z H-F's MicKayla Jones applies youthful exuberance to cross countryBy Ken Karrson kenneth.karrson@!nwi.com, (219) 933-4192 nwitimes.com

MicKayla Jones will never get caught napping.

Those runners who finished behind the Homewood-Flossmoor senior at last year's Class 3A Bloom Twp. Regional -- which means everyone -- will certainly attest to Jones' level of readiness. But they won't be the first.

No, that distinction goes to a preschool instructor, who simply couldn't convince a much younger Jones that a little shuteye was in the child's best interest.

"I hated taking naps," Jones said with a laugh. "So one of my teachers taught me how to read and do simple math, and they moved me up into kindergarten early."

Naturally, that made Jones the youngest student in every classroom throughout her school career. When she graduates next June -- which she'll do with an abundance of credit hours, thanks to a handful of high school courses taken in middle school and the summer prior to freshman year -- Jones will have just turned 17.

"I was super prepared for high school," she said. "I didn't come in thinking I was going to chill out. I've always been the younger person, and I try to use that as motivation. I wanted to prove I could do as well as everybody else."

Jones applied that same strategy to her running, which has included track throughout her time at H-F and cross country since 2009. Encouragement from Vikings coach Rob Assise and her father, Hammond High grad James Jones, convinced MicKayla to give the latter sport a try, even though her specialties were 400- and 800-meter races.

"After my freshman track season, they thought I had the potential," she said.

That didn't mean, though, it was a case of cross country love at first sight.

"I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" Jones said, when asked about her reaction to her initial long-distance practice. "It was a little hard to get used to. The mental part was my main problem."

But not for long. According to Assise, Jones "came into her own a little bit last year."

"She's a smart kid and she works hard," he said.

After placing first in the Bloom Twp. Regional, just ahead of H-F teammate Eileen Whited, Jones finished 50th at the Normal Sectional. That didn't advance her to state, but she did post a personal-best time of 19 minutes, 28 seconds.

Assise believes Jones is "on the cusp of making it to state for both cross country and track." And if she's able to break through this fall, Jones figures her chances of a state-qualifying will be heightened next spring.

"If you like running three miles, 400 meters seems like nothing," she said.

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