There are runners who can rely on speed alone to win races. Others try to improve through hard work and dedication. Lawrence High junior Jensen Edwards is a combination of the two.
Not content with just being near the top of the leaderboard, Edwards has transformed into one of the top runners in the state this year.
Edwards won a regional championship in the 400-meters (59.48) last week and helped the Lions win two regional titles in relays, the 4x100 and 4x400. She also took fourth in the 200 (26.51) to qualify for the Class 6A state meet, which begins Friday in Wichita.
She was stunned she qualified in the 200, as she was nearly in last place when running around the curve of the track. The rest of her team and coaches weren’t as surprised.
“Jensen is one of the hardest workers I know,” sophomore Kyleigh Severa said. “Every day at practice she gives her all, no matter how bad her stomach hurts or head hurts, she’ll always give her all. She’ll be throwing up but still finish the workout.”
Edwards qualified for state in three events last year, taking 10th in the 400 prelims and helping the Lions win a state championship in the 4x400 and finish eighth in the 4x100.
She’s been improving throughout this season and is seeded fifth at state in the 400.
“This year kind of surprised me,” Edwards said. “I wasn’t expecting to do this well. I just keep working hard and it keeps getting better.”
At regionals in the 4x400, Edwards ran a split of 57 seconds as the anchor leg, a goal she wanted to reach all season and a personal record.
“Jensen is a big competitor,” junior Marissa Pope said. “In practice you can tell she’s a competitor and it shows in the 4x4. She’s a really strong leg and probably our strongest runner. Her competitive spirit just builds and gets bigger and bigger each week.”
Edwards has teamed with junior Leah Gabler, Pope and Severa on the 4x400 during the past two seasons. As the fastest runner on the defending state champion relay, Edwards said the rest of the team motivates her and makes her want to do even better.
“It’s really cool,” Edwards said. “I just feel close with all of the girls. I’m best friends with everyone on the team. It’s just awesome running with them. ... It’s definitely my favorite event that I do.”
“She is smart about her races,” Severa added. “She uses her mind and her athleticism and I think that’s really important. She definitely cares a lot about track and I think that shows a lot about her.”
Part of Edwards’ motivation is to do well for her older brother. Trent Edwards, a 2011 LHS graduate, fell just shy of the state meet with three sixth-place finishes at regionals in 2011 and two sixth place finishes in 2010.
“He talked to me before regionals and got me motivated,” Edwards said. “He was like, ‘You have to do it for me.’ It was pretty cool.”
The Edwards’ siblings are five years apart and some of Jensen’s interest in the sport was sparked by watching her brother.
“That’s definitely a big factor because he had such a good time at LHS doing track,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m making him proud when I’m here.”
Edwards’ brother isn’t the only one proud of her success.
“She just keeps working,” LHS coach Jack Hood said. “Every time that she does something new that’s special, we ask more out of her. She thinks, ‘I can’t do that,’ and we just keep telling her, ‘You can, hon. You’ve got the talent. You’ve got the right demeanor,’ and she just goes. Everything that we’ve asked out of her, she’s been able to accomplish.”