Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Celsor’s spring has raised expectations

Leader sportswriter

The last thing Kristen Celsor wants to hear is how well she should do in this week’s heptathlon.

The Searcy junior is fresh off a win in the high jump at the Meet of Champs at Lake Hamilton last Tuesday, and is in preparation for the heptathlon at Cabot today and Thursday. As a sophomore last year, she finished second to Nashville’s Jasmine Ellis, but still wishes she could slip in under the radar once again in 2009.

“Expectations make me really nervous, so I hope I meet them,” said Celsor, who is also a two-year starter for the Lady Lions basketball team, and plans on being one of the first starters for a new Searcy volleyball team that will take to the court for the first time in the fall. “It’s not that I don’t like high expectations. It just adds more pressure. But it pushes me, because I want to meet everyone’s expectations.”

Celsor has come a long way in the limited time she has had this spring. A playoff run for the Lady Lions basketball team made for a late start in track, and an unusually high number of rainouts made the Meet of Champs only the fifth meet she has participated in this year.

She qualified for the Meet of Champs with wins in the 300-meter hurdles and high jump at the 6A state track meet two weeks ago. Her performance helped lead the Lady Lions to a seventh-place overall finish in the meet.

She jumped 5 feet, 4 inches to win the 6A meet, and improved to a 5-5 to earn first place at the Meet of Champs. Her winning time in the 300-meter hurdles at state was 46.13, which she improved to a 45.74 at the Meet of Champs, just half-a-second behind winner Kiara Vinson of North Little Rock.

“I was really hoping it would turn out like it did,” said Celsor. “But I was nervous because a lot of the girls jumped really high and ran really fast, so there was competition.”

Celsor, 17, is the youngest of Steve and Pam Celsor’s three children. Steve, a native of the St. Louis, Mo., area, was a track star at Harding University in the 80s, when he and Pam met. The two have lived in the area ever since. Though Kristen remains true to her first sport of basketball, she certainly doesn’t mind carrying on the family tradition on the asphalt.

“I love all sports, but basketball is probably my favorite sport,” said Celsor. “Track is a great way to stay in shape. My dad was a high jumper, so I guess I’m just following in his footsteps.”

New Searcy assistant track coach Tony McCoy has been around tracks at high schools in Arkansas for well over a decade. With his new job this year as a track and football coach in the Lions athletic program, McCoy said he was quickly sold on Celsor’s abilities.

“She’s been super to work with,” said McCoy. “She’s one of the most talented female athletes around — White County, even the whole state. You can tell. She’s a top basketball player, and what she did at (the Meet of Champs) showed that she’s one of the best.

“I’ve been working with her the last couple of months. I’m still getting to know her, and she’s a wonderful kid. I’ve been talking to other coaches and some of the teachers that have had her, and they love her to death.”

Standout female track athletes are nothing new at Searcy. Current University of Arkansas freshman long jumper Whitney Jones dazzled the state three years ago when she won the heptathlon as a sophomore, and went on to dominate girls track in the state the following year before a persistent hamstring injury sidelined her at the event her senior year.

The void Jones left at last year’s heptathlon was quickly filled by Celsor, which seems fitting given the influence Jones had on Celsor’s running.

“Whitney had the most positive attitude, and she is an amazing runner,” said Celsor. “So to even be at the same school running with her, she was a great motivation for me to do my best.”

Celsor also got to see the hype that surrounds a high-profile athlete early on. Jones stayed almost as busy at most meets giving interviews to state and local media as she did preparing for her events, something that did not go unnoticed by an up-and-coming Celsor.

“Watching her and how she dealt with it, I was just hoping I could do an interview as well as she could if I ever got to that point,” said Celsor with a giggle. “I haven’t gotten much better at it, either.”

Confidence and expectation may not be two of Celsor’s favorite terms when it comes to discussing the upcoming heptathlon. She prefers the word ‘hope.’

“I’m definitely going to push myself to do the best I can,” she said. “And I wouldn’t say ‘confident’, but I’m just hoping that I do as well as I did last year.”