If EA-WR’s Ulrich is denied another state-title shot, ‘I would be crushed’ | #schoolshooting



WOOD RIVER – Jayden Ulrich certainly was not the only girl in the area disappointed by the cancellation of the prep track season last spring.


In fact, her reaction was fairly typical.


“I was pretty sad and bummed out about it because I was really excited for the season,” Ulrich said. “High expectations for the season, state and nationals. Just all around bummed out.”


She was not the only bummed out girl, but the East Alton-Wood River Oilers junior was the only one in the area that was been a prohibitive favorite to repeat as a state champion at the Illinois state meets in Charleston.


“Easily,” Oilers coach Russ Colona said of the likelihood of Ulrich winning not just one, but two state titles in the Class 2A girls meet. “No doubt.”




Ulrich became EA-WR girls track’s first state medalist when she placed fourth in the shot put as a freshman. She became the program’s first state champion as a sophomore, heaving the shot 46 feet, 9.5 inches to break her own school record for a sixth time in the season. Ulrich also got off a school-record throw in the discus at 139-11 to place second.



Her junior season – and possible legacy as a three-year state champ — was a victim of COVID-19. “The world got robbed of what they could see,” Colona said.


Most of the world will get over it, as did Ulrich. But the most unkindest of cuts for Ulrich would come if the pandemic rages into the modified track season of 2021 — “It could still get cancelled,” she cautions – and makes her sophomore state experience her last.



“Thinking about not having senior year, that would be horrible,” Ulrich said. “I would be crushed.”


But the training for state 2021 moves on and the returns for Ulrich have been impressive. Before the new coronavirus shut down track in the spring, Ulrich earned indoor track All-America status in the shot with a toss of 47-8 in Columbia, Missouri.


The quest for a 50-footer is included in her senior goals, but Ulrich’s abrupt ascension in the discus has her targeting more elite company in Illinois history. The Class 2A state record in the discus is 145-8 and Ulrich this summer has been a regular visitor to the neighborhood of 150-plus.


“She’s broken that over 30 times,” Colona said of the 2A record. “Her best is 155-8. We got excited at first, but she’s broken it so many times, we quit counting.”



Only Emmonnie Henderson, a seven-time state champion at Edwardsville and a nine-time NCAA All-America at Louisville, produced throws better than 50 in the shot and 150 in the discus in state history. Henderson went 50-9/5 and 161-1 as a Tiger.


Ulrich looks to go high-end shopping in that range.


“Last spring, we had 50 and 150,” Colona said of goals for Ulrich’s junior season. “Now, we’re looking at 160 in the discus next spring – or summer, whenever we get to go – and we’re still shooting for that magical 50. Fifty’s a pretty tough throw.”


Ulrich believes that 50-something shot is within reach. But she can’t put a number on that pursuit in August.


“Very good progress,” she said. “Lately, I haven’t been going for distance, so I couldn’t tell you. I do drills now because I don’t have a meet to practice for. But whenever I’m doing drills, the power that I have behind the ball, it’s been really good.”


Adding the adrenaline that comes with a crowd and rivals with like ambition will likely grow any numbers posted in quarantine.


“And that’s just standing out in a field with a couple of people there,” Colona said of Ulrich’s off-season work. “If we put her in a situation where there’s competition and something to get excited about, who knows what we’ll see?”


While Ulrich’s progress comes without much publicity, college recruiters have been paying attention. “MileSplit named her a top-five national recruit,” Colona said of the track & field and cross country website. “That’s pretty outstanding recognition.”


Colona said Ulrich has a list of “five or six schools” on her short list, but she does not appear close to a commitment.


“I’m still thinking about it,” Ulrich said. “I haven’t made a final decision. I’m planning visits. It’s a work in progress.”


Ulrich’s first two seasons with Oilers track included entries in the sprints and sprint relays. But she certainly does not consider herself a distance runner, despite being a member of EA-WR cross country. That connection, she assures, is only for fun and fitness.


“That’s exactly it,” Ulrich said. “I run in practices and then lift or throw, I don’t run the meets. So, it’s not too bad.”


The pandemic, her coach concedes, may do some harm to Ulrich’s legacy at EA-WR, with state championship opportunities lost. But Ulrich will not lose her senior shots at state history, if her coach has his way.


“We can call IHSA and say, hey, give us two IHSA officials and we’ll go up there and throw for a state record with just us,” Colona said with a laugh. “I think she could do it.”


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