A season ago at the regional track meet at McMurry University in Abilene, Denton’s April Pena did what was necessary to advance to the state track meet with a 5-feet, 6-inch effort in the high jump. Unfortunately for Pena, her competitor also achieved the same height a jump before her, which effectively eliminated her from qualifying for state.
With the District 5-4A today and Tuesday at the Little Elm Athletic Complex serving as the first official step towards her conquest to qualify for state, the memory of missing out by one jump still burns deep within her.
“We both jumped 5-4 and we both went out on 5-6,” Pena said. “She got it on her second jump. I got it on my third. I ended up getting third at regionals and didn’t make it to state. That’s my goal this year. Hopefully, my hard work pays off and I get there.”
Her new head coach Gary Roberson, who also took the Denton boys’ track team to the state meet from 1999-2004, had Pena in his world geography class and knows just how motivated Pena is to accomplish her goals both on the track and in the classroom.
“I’ve known April since she was a freshman in my world geography, and she’s always been a student and athlete that’s been driven to succeed,” Roberson said. “Nothing has changed about that even now, so she’s got the right attitude and the ability. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity. She’s played the cards to be successful.”
If Pena can match her 5-6 jump that she also accomplished earlier this season, Roberson thinks she has a strong chance to advance to the state meet.
“She’s shown steady improvement each meet, and she’s an experienced athlete,” Roberson said. “She’s been there before. Take both of those things into consideration and the fact that she’s a driven athlete; she’s sitting pretty for success.”
“She remembers that mistake. One of your best teachers is always your last mistake, but that’s not really a mistake. She remembers that and that’s part of what’s driving her to succeed.”
In addition to the high jump, Pena, who also started for the Lady Broncos’ basketball team, competes in as many events an athlete is allowed — five.
Running on two of the three relays — 400 and 1,600 — Pena also competes in the pole vault — the event she finds the most challenging.
“It’s very technical,” Pena said. “Focusing on the little things is the hard part. To be successful, you have to master all these little things. Sticking the pole in the box is little compared to the other stuff.”
More than any event though, Pena enjoys the individual 400-meter race because the pressure is squarely on her.
“I’ve been doing it since freshman year,” Pena said. “It’s really what got me into track. It’s not too short or too long. I like it because you’ve got adrenaline going through you. You don’t even feel it until the last curve. It’s my best chance [at advancing]. It’s like when you have something in front of you, and you know you can get it and you’re so close.”
Advancing to the regional meet in each of her first three seasons, Pena said she enjoys the district meet as a warm-up and is excited for the rest of her teammates to possibly make the regional meet with her this season.
“It still means a lot,” Pena said of the district meet. “It’s what advances you to regionals and it tells you where you’re at before you actually get there and what you need to focus on. I’m hoping we have a lot of girls coming to regionals. We had two last year, but hopefully we get some relay teams going. I think it helps you a lot. It gives you something to focus on.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.