Dani Jones

Desert Vista's Dani Jones, far left, has become accustomed to finding herself at the top of the podium and it should continue over the next two years.

By David Jolkovski

Dani Jones put together one heck of a state meet.

Two individual state titles, one runner-up finish and one team relay state title put the Desert Vista sophomore in elite company.

She won the 800 with the second best time in state history (2 minutes and 10.33 seconds), posted the fifth best time in state history in the 1600 (4:51.17), and helped in the Thunder 4x800 team relay title.

Jones had similar expectations as a freshman, but let it get the best of her so she entered the 2013 meet with a different approach to help her earn two All-Tribune Girls Track first-team selections.

“Last year I put too much pressure on myself, even as a freshman,” she said at the time. “This year it was all about having fun and it seemed to help me out.”

In both of her winning events she wasn’t the front runner, and in the 1600 she didn’t take the best route to pass those in front, but had enough at the end to pull off the double victory.

“I was behind, but I knew I had a lot left,” said Jones, who was joined on the first team by teammates Makenzi Holmes-Digiovine (discus) and Vanessa Davis (pole vault). “I was able to use that last kick and finish strong.”

Her performance will only mean greater expectations the next two seasons, something Chandler’s Ky Westbrook knows all about, especially when they are sometimes entirely unfair.

As Westbrook prepared for her junior season on the track, the question wasn’t if, but when, the Chandler star would start knocking off decade-old state records set by Peoria’s Jessica Onyepunuka.

Westbrook had already become the premier sprinter in the state by dominating as a sophomore, but she worried this was too much, too soon.

“I was really nervous because a lot of people were talking about me breaking records, and I felt like my times weren’t fast enough,” Westbrook said.

She tried to downplay the situation, saying her best chance to surpass the 100- and 200-meter dash times would be during her senior season. But as she crept close to Onyepunuka’s 200 mark, deep down Westbrook knew she had a shot.

So at this year’s state meet, she bowed out of a fourth event (the 4x100-meter relay) to save enough energy for her last race of the night.

She blazed around the turn and won the title in 23.39 seconds, smashing Onyepunuka’s state-record time of 23.60 seconds in the process.

“Being that close, it makes you want it even more,” Westbrook said. “The training didn’t change, but my motivation and my work ethic did.”

It was the third individual state title and second state record of the season for Westbrook, as she earned the Tribune’s Girls Track Athlete of the Year award for the second consecutive year.

Although Westbrook is known more for her sprinting prowess, it was a shot put toss at the Chandler City Meet in April, which really put her all-around talent in perspective.

There was a mix-up with the event officials at the meet, and Westbrook very nearly wasn’t allowed to throw that day because the shots had been put away by the time she got done with her races. However, she was allowed to cut in during the boys round for her attempts, which set the stage for her historic throw.

Westbrook let one fly, and once it left her hand, she had a good feeling she had just surpassed a distance of 42 feet to set a new personal record. The shot put landed 47 feet, 9 inches away, breaking the old state record of 47-5 set by Cindy Johnson in 1980.

Not bad for a sprinter.

“After the meet was over, I was talking to my coach and he’s like, ‘Good job,’” Westbrook said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I PR’ed.’ ‘You broke the state record.’ I was like, ‘What?’ I had to look it up on my phone because I didn’t believe it.”

Westbrook doesn’t practice the shot put as often as other competitors because she’s tied up with the sprints, but the record piqued her interest.

“I feel like I do want to explore it more because I’m now curious,” Westbrook said. “I think that when I go to college I’m going to spend more time on it. Perfect it.”

So, two state records down, one to go.

Westbrook thought she’d have a chance to beat Onyepunuka’s 100-meter dash time of 11.31 seconds at the Dream 100 race in New York shortly after state. Even though she won the race against some of the nation’s top high school sprinters, dreary conditions left her short of the mark, as Westbrook topped out with a time of 11.45 seconds this year.

She will be back as a senior next season, where once again everyone will expect her to claim the 100 record and improve on her 200 time. Westbrook can feel the pressure mounting already and doesn’t want to make any promises.

“I’m just looking forward to next year,” Westbrook said with a laugh.

But even as her mouth tries to downplay the gaudy expectations thrust upon her, her legs continue to prove they’re always up for the challenge.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

• Reach Kyle Odegard at (480) 898-6834 or kodegard@evtrib.com. Follow his blog at http://blogs.evtrib.com/varsityxtra, or find him on Twitter @Kyle_Odegard.

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