Jazlyn Romero and Hunter Nichols could not be more different. Nichols is a distance runner, whereas a trip down the javelin runway is far enough for Romero.
The one thing that brings them together is that they are the best at what they do, which earned them the East Oregonian’s Outstanding Athletes for Track and Field.
Romero, a junior at Hermiston, is one of the top high school javelin throwers in the nation. She is the first Oregon athlete to win a Washington state title.
“She wants to be on top (of the podium) every time,” Hermiston coach Emilee Strot said. “I think a lot of people still think of her as a basketball player. She is much more.”
Nichols, a senior at Heppner, dominated on the track all season. He struck gold at the 2A state track meet, winning the 800 meters, the 3,000 meters, and ran the anchor leg on the winning 4x400 relay.
“He is a hard worker,” said Heppner coach Russ Nichols of his son. “I’ve never had to worry about that.”
Hard to beat
When Hermiston moved from the OSAA to the WIAA this year, Romero already was on the national radar in the javelin.
This spring, she moved up into the top 10 at one point, and this week is ranked 12th with a personal best throw of 151 feet, 9 inches.
“Being 12th is still really exciting,” Romero said. “My goal this season was to break the school record. A lot of the time this season, I forgot I had another season to do it. I’m striving to get it early next year.”
Michelle Coombs holds the school record with a mark of 155-11, set in 2008.
Romero won the 3A state javelin title in May with a throw of 144-11. It was the second-longest winning throw in the 3A division at state in the past eight years.
“I went in confident, but no too confident,” she said. “Going in, my mark was the furthest, and I had that security, but anything can happen.”
Of the 12 meets she threw the javelin in this spring, there were only two she did not win. She was sixth at the prestigious Pasco Invite, and second at the Dean Nice Invite in Gresham.
While she excels at the javelin, she’s also working on doing the same in the discus. She placed in the top three in seven of the 13 meets she entered.
Her season best was 114-3, and she missed out on a trip to state by one place. She finished third at the District 8 meet.
Romero also throws the shot put, but she said she’ll leave that for teammates Paige Palzinski and Kendall Dowdy.
“We have strong shot put throwers, but coach will have me throw it in the smaller meets to get points for the team,” Romero said. “Javelin and discus are my main focus if I want to throw at the college level.”
Yes, there is an if.
Romero’s first love has always been basketball, but her success in track may be pushing the needle to the other side.
“I have always grown up with basketball, and that is super important to me,” Romero said. “But I have grown to love track. I will have to decide. If I choose basketball or track, I will be happy either way.”
It also will decide what level of school Romero would like to attend. For track, she could go Div. I, but with basketball, it might be Div. II, NAIA or junior college.
“I have gotten a lot of letters and questionnaires for track,” she said. “LSU, Princeton, WSU, Texas A&M and others.”
Strot, who threw shot put, discus and javelin in college at Kentucky and UC Berkeley, will be able to guide Romero through the process.
“This has been a great year for her, not only in track,” Strot said. “If she continues with the high level of work ethic, she will do great things. She has bought in and trusts in what I and the other coaches ask. We are working on putting together an athlete profile and video, and getting it out to schools and see what happens.”
But for now, her focus is on basketball. Romero plays for the Oregon Elite out of Lake Oswego, and the next two months are packed with practices and tournaments.
“Basketball consumes my summer,” she said.
Catch me if you can
Hands down, Heppner had the top distance crew in the Columbia Basin this spring, and Nichols was the leader of the pack.
He ran everything from the 400 to the 3,000 during the season, and with great success.
There were only two meets where he did not win the 3,000 — the Sandy Invitational and the Centennial Invitational. He won the state title by nearly 3 seconds, clocking an 8:59.29.
In the 800, he edged Wyatt Smith of Oakland by a couple of steps for the state title. He turned in a time of 2:01.09, which was off his school record time of 1:57.50.
“I was pretty confident going into the 800 after running a 1:57,” Nichols said. “It was my last meet, I gave it everything I had. The 3,000 is more tactical and there is more time for stuff to happen. You can put a lot more tactical race together, whereas in the 800, it’s who can gut it out the longest — who has the heart and who can take the pain.”
That’s all fine and good, but it the 4x400 relay that Nichols seems to enjoy most.
“They save the best for last,” he said. “It’s a crazy race. I like the pressure of the anchor leg. I can hold off most people. It’s my senior year, my last race, I wanted them to give it (the baton) to me.”
The Mustangs obliterated the school record in the mile relay at state, clocking a 3:30.94. The previous record was 3:34.10.
When Nichols broke the school record in the 800 on April 12, it was the longest-standing record at the school. Tim Driscoll’s time, set in 1965, was 1:59.30.
Nichols could have made a clean sweep of the distance events, but he chose not to run the 1,500, leaving that event to teammate Trevor Antonucci, who placed third at state.
“That was one thing I never had to worry about,” Russ Nichols said. “They all put team first.”
Nichols is headed to Eastern Oregon University, where he will run cross country and track.
He’s not sure what events he will run during the track season.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I can run a decent 5K, but I can also run a decent 800. It will be a new experience for me, but I’m ready.”
Nichols said he will miss running for his dad, but he will not miss running up Water Street by the school every day.
“You have to run up that hill whether you want to or not,” he said.
Russ Nichols said he too will miss their time together, but that his other son Trevor will be a freshman this fall.
“Trevor is faster than Hunter was when he was in middle school,” Russ Nichols said.