Twin sisters Elizabeth and Kaylee Jones closed the 2015 state high school track meet by helping Millard North defend its all-class gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay.
As they left Burke Stadium that day, they figured that was it.
“We actually weren’t going to run after high school,” Elizabeth said.
They always planned to attend the same college — it was going to be either UNL or Nebraska Wesleyan. But as that summer went on, they began considering a return to track. So they met with Wesleyan coach Ted Bulling and his team.
“We thought, ‘We’re going to miss something special if we don’t run,’” Kaylee said.
Their track careers have been something special with the Prairie Wolves. Elizabeth is a 10-time All-American and Kaylee a nine-time All-American heading into the final meet of their careers, the NCAA Division III national championships Thursday to Saturday in Geneva, Ohio.
“They don’t take shortcuts at all,” said Bulling, who has been Wesleyan’s track coach for more than three decades. “They’re great leaders. They’re not vocal, but obviously lead by example. No one works harder or are more disciplined, doing all the right things.”
Both Jones sisters have qualified in the open 400. Kaylee comes in with the second-best time in Division III at 55.31 seconds, while Elizabeth, who has placed third in the event the past two outdoor nationals, has the sixth-fastest time at 55.89.
But competitors have had the hardest time keeping up with the Joneses in the 1,600 relay.
Wesleyan has won the past six 1,600 relays at nationals — three times indoor and three times outside. The Jones sisters have run on every one of them. The Prairie Wolves enter this week with the nation’s second-fastest time in the relay at 3:46.61.
Incidentally, the Joneses didn’t have the chance to win the relay at indoor nationals as freshmen because their brother was getting married in Omaha the same day as the finals.
The other relay members are Lincoln Pius X grad Aspen Rolfes and senior Anna Frazier, who also ran with the Joneses on those state-winning relays at Millard North. That quartet has run together the past two years after two of the relay members graduated following the Joneses’ sophomore season.
All six relay titles are special, Bulling said. “But that one last year maybe has even more meaning because we did it with a new group.”
Bulling added that each national meet presents a new challenge, especially with a new lineup. Elizabeth ran the anchor leg during the indoor season, while Kaylee anchors during the outdoor.
“Last year there was a ton of pressure because it was the first running with a new team,” Kaylee said. “But we knew it would come down to who had the heart and guts to go get it.”
The Joneses don’t want to put any undue pressure on themselves this week, either. Their time at Wesleyan is winding down — they graduated last week and both plan to go to graduate school studying physical therapy. They know they’ll miss being part of a track team, but those thoughts can wait for later.
“Right now, I haven’t necessarily thought that far,” Elizabeth said. “We’re just focused on finishing up what we have here.”
In other Midlands notes:
- National track meets also begin Thursday for NCAA Division II and NAIA athletes. The Division II meet is in Kingsville, Texas, where Chadron State sophomore Isaac Grimes looks to add an outdoor title to his indoor one in the long jump. The NAIA meet is in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Concordia has the most women’s qualifiers with 23.
- Midland has hired Larry Nugent as its men’s wrestling coach. He previously was coach at Bethany College in Kansas.
- Nate Rogers, a 1,000-yard receiver for Wayne State last fall, has been added to the training camp roster of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. The South Sioux City graduate finished his college career as WSC’s career leader in touchdown catches (38) and was third in receptions (177). The Argonauts opened training camp Sunday and play their first preseason game May 30.
- York College has hired Chad Mattox as its men’s wrestling coach. Mattox had been York High’s coach the past nine years.
- The finalists for the Ken B. Jones Award, presented to the MIAA’s top athlete for the school year, were announced Tuesday. Among the five women’s finalists were UNK libero Ellie McDonnell and Central Missouri volleyball player Kylie Hohlen, a Norris graduate. UNK track athlete Jacob Bartling is a men’s finalist.