LAWRENCE, Kan. — The summer of 2017 keeps getting better and better for 2017 Dayton High grad J.J. Ply.
With less than two weeks rest, Ply won the 2017 USATF Hershey National Junior Olympic 17-18 decathlon championship at University of Kansas’ Rock Chalk Park Tuesday afternoon with a personal-best 7,111 points.
The total is the best high school score in the country this year, and it’s the first time over 7,000 for the 18-year-old Ply.
Ply won five of the 10 events — high jump (6-8 3/4), 110 high hurdles (14.7), pole vault (13-5 1/4), javelin (182-10), and the 1500 (4:18.99) in a dominant performance.
He placed in the top five in eight of the 10 events.
This was a dream come true for Ply, who competed in his first decathlon after his sophomore year at Dayton.
“It is just incredible,” Ply said via phone from Lawrence. “I put so much work into it. It is a great feeling to have all that work pay off.
“I didn’t see myself being at this level when I first started. I remember my first multi-event, I didn’t even train for all of the events. I fell in love with it, though.”
And, he fell in love with hard work. Preparing for 10 events is rugged. Ply could put some work into some of his normal events, but events like the javelin and discus took extra work, and he was more than willing to put it in.
Ply was an easy winner after winning four of the five events on Tuesday.
Second place went to Isaiah Martin of Jets Track Club with 6,487 and Peyton Hack from Indiana was in third place at 6,408.
He was hoping for a 7,300, but was pleased with his final score.
“It feels very good,” Ply said. “I was hoping for 7,300, but any time you get 7,000 it’s great.”
The 624-point margin of victory was impressive when you consider Ply won the regional qualifier nine days ago.
And, with one practice session under his belt, made the long trek by automobile to Lawrence. On travel breaks, Ply would get out of the car and get some jogging in to stay loose.
“It wasn’t even a contest today, it really wasn’t,” said Kevin Ply, his dad and part-time coach during the high school season. “He took over first after the high jump and ran away from everybody from there. He was 300 points ahead going into the last event. You don’t expect that at a national championship competition.”
The younger Ply said he wasn’t aware of the point differential until late in the competition.
“I didn’t look at other people’s scores,” he said. “It surprised me when I found out I was that far ahead. I had a feeling after the javelin that I was going to win.”
It was improvement in the throws that helped boost Ply over the 7,000 mark. He threw a personal-best 122-1 to take fifth in the discus, and his javelin throw of 182-10 was another best by approximately seven meters.
Don’t overlook decathlon bests of 14.7 in the high hurdles and 6-8 3/4 in the high jump. Prior to regionals, Ply said he hadn’t spent much time on the high jump, but a change in his approach paid big dividends.
“Before regionals, we changed my approach to make it more aggressive and more consistent,” Ply said. “During regionals, we just wanted to see how it worked. I was a lot more aggressive through my turn into the jump. I was just a lot more aggressive.
“In the hurdle race, I was happy with my time. I think I hit the last four or five hurdles of the race.”
Ply’s worst events were his first two — the 100 and the long jump. He ran a respectable 12.05 in the 100 and finished 16th. He took 13th in the long jump with a mark of 19-9 3/4.
On the first day of competition, Ply got off to a slow start, finishing 16th in the 100 meters with a 12.05, and he followed that up with a 19-9 3/4 in the long jump good for 13th place.
He started to turn things around with a PR of 42-1 1/2 in the shot put (4th place), a 6-8 3/4 effort in the high jump (decathlon best) and a 51.77 effort in the 400.
The comeback put him at 3,474 points after the first day, a personal best.
And, Tuesday it was all about Ply.