DAYTON — J.J. Ply has had a dream senior season.
The Dayton High track standout set school records in the 110 high hurdles (14.63), 300 hurdles (39.63) and high jump (6-10).
And, he’s favored in all three of those events at this weekend’s NIAA State Track & Field Championships at Foothill High in Henderson after winning all three of his specialties at last weekend’s 3A regional meet at Carson High.
“It has (sunk in) a little bit,” Ply said earlier this week of his three wins last week. “It’s kind of crazy to think about.
“I don’t look very often at what anybody else is doing or has done this year. I’m really just focusing on what I need to do this weekend. I think it (being favored) will help me stay focused.”
Certainly his performance this year is no surprise to coach Mike Paul, who has seen Ply improve every year.
“He is such a gifted athlete,” Paul said. “He could be our best in any event. Overall, he is one of the top we’ve had here, and we’ve had some good athletes here.”
Ply is making his fourth consecutive trip to track and field’s big dance, and it’s his third straight trip to the state meet in multiple events. He’s no stranger to pressure. He seems to be able to block things out.
“I don’t really get nervous, no,” he said. “Not much really goes through my mind. I usually run through quickly what I want the race to feel like.”
In the 110 high hurdles, Ply has run a 14.63. His two closest pursuers — Sparks’ Nick Van Patten (15.16) and Fernley’s Sam Wright 15.25) — are from Northern Nevada. The top 3A hurdlers in Southern Nevada are Del Sol’s Jaylen Flenaugh (15.28) and Pahrump’s Dylan Montgomery (15.37, last week).
“I’d like to get 14.5 (new school record),” Ply said. “One thing I’d like to improve on is my start. I have been coming out pretty slow and end up having to catch up. I need to be quicker out of the blocks.”
Ply actually ran the 300 hurdles at state last year and took seventh. He admits he really didn’t like the race, and didn’t run it this year until late in the season.
“It wasn’t something I wanted to do,” Ply said. “I didn’t feel comfortable. The week before the regional qualifier this year, we were looking at the 4 by 4 (relay). We weren’t really close (to qualifying), so I decided on the hurdles for a fourth event. The first time I ran it (300 hurdles) I won it. I ran mid 40s.”
“I’d been trying to get him to run it, but he was working on decathlon,” Paul said. “He has really good form.”
Ply set a school record the next race, running a 39.13, and he followed that up with a state-qualifying mark of 39.54 in the regional finals. He said he’s feeling better about his progress in the 300 hurdles.
“I feel pretty comfortable with what I’m doing,” Ply said. “Last week I felt like I was crowding all the hurdles. I have to run through them cleanly.”
Ply waged a great duel with Elko’s Kyrin Allen in the high jump. The latter appeared to injure his knee on his first attempt at 7-feet, but continued on. The two are co-favorites this weekend with Del Sol’s Jon Spearman, who recently cleared 6-8.
“He (Allen) is a great jumper; a great competitor,” Ply said. “If he’s healthy, he’ll be right up there.”
Ply is without a doubt one of the most versatile athletes to come out of Northern Nevada in recent years.
His versatility has led him to become a multi-sport athlete. He recently received a track scholarship offer to attend Central Arizona College, a two-year program.
Several people, including his dad, Kevin, urged Ply to give the decathlon a try. Until then, he’d been more of a high hurdler, pole vaulter and high jumper, and he was one of the best in the northern part of the state in all three.
“The first time I tried it was the summer after my sophomore year,” Ply said. “I absolutely loved it.”
Ply won the Mt. Sac Multi-Event championship last summer and then later took sixth place at the Junior Olympic Multi-National Championship in Sacramento.
“There were kids from all over the country there (in Sacramento),” Ply said. “The other event, it was more kids from the surrounding area.”
That success in Sacramento was bittersweet for Ply. As the family left Sacramento, they received a phone call telling them their house and one other in their Dayton neighborhood had burned down, destroying everything. The fire forced the family to live in several different places in the area, and they hope to be in their new home soon.
Ply also participated in the Arcadia Invitational Multi-Event this year, one of the top meets for high school athletes. He recorded an impressive second-place finish with 6,384 points.
Ply said he needs to improve in the discus where he currently throws just 106 feet and the 100 meters where he runs 12.2.
“The first couple of weeks at the beginning of the season I worked with coach Paul on the discus,” he said. “After Arcadia, I started to focus on my four individual events.”
Another event he’d like to improve is the pole vault. He vaulted 13-feet at last year’s state meet, but hasn’t reached that height this year. He also broke two poles which didn’t help his progress.