As conditions go, Kenna Lonergan could hardly have asked for worse Monday.
It was pouring rain. A slippery track at St. Charles East made for a treacherous path to the high jump pit.
Lonergan, a Neuqua Valley sophomore, twice clipped the bar at the opening height of 4 feet, 10 inches. Once she made 5 feet, though, there was no slowing down. She went right to 5-3, then 5-6 —and on her first try soared to a personal best on the least ideal day for it.
“I knew I was capable of it, but I didn’t think I would get it that day,” Lonergan said. “It’s not my favorite kind of weather, but it made it a more fun experience.”
By now Neuqua Valley’s coaches should be used to their wunderkind setting a high bar for herself.
Lonergan burst onto the scene as a freshman, winning a sectional championship. Her 5-6 PR is a hair short of the school record of 5-6.25, set by 2008 high jump state champion Monika Jakutyte. Last month Lonergan set the indoor conference record of 5-4.
As a freshman, Lonergan was voted Neuqua’s team MVP by her peers.
“She’s everything you could dream of in a great athlete,” Neuqua coach Gretchen Parejko said. “She’s supportive, she’s coachable — and she doesn’t flinch. If she fails, she’s wants to come back and try again.”
In fact, this spring has not always been smooth sailing for Lonergan.
Fighting the fear to hit the bar with her feet, Lonergan made it a habit to snap her feet almost violently, curling up into a ball and almost cannon-balling over instead of landing on her shoulders.
The low point came when Lonergan no-heighted at an indoor meet at Hinsdale Central.
“That was devastating for her. She was definitely upset,” Neuqua jumps coach Bill Casey said. “She kept working on it, and you slowly saw the pieces coming together. At St. Charles she was out of that cannon ball maneuver; she was literally hitting the bar with her heels and bringing the bar up. That is easily corrected.”
The meet-to-meet highs and lows can crumble an emotionally fragile teenage athlete, but not Lonergan.
“The greatest thing about her is her attitude,” Casey said. “She will just sit there and smile, and almost joke about it. If you’re too serious it can eat you up inside.”
That steely reserve, and a humble nature that doesn’t allow success to swell her head, shouldn’t be a surprise. Lonergan comes from a long line of track athletes.
Her grandfather Ralph ran track, uncle Kevin Kent was a high jumper in high school in Michigan, and her mom Carla did the hurdles in high school and at Central Michigan. Kenna’s older brother Casey did the high jump in high school, sister Kelly the hurdles.
“I randomly tried it and it worked out pretty well,” Kenna said. “I guess it’s in my blood.”
Picking up track at Scullen Middle School, Lonergan won conference in the hurdles as a seventh-grader, then swept the high jump and hurdles in eighth grade.
“She’s just an awesome person,” Parejko said. “That’s the greatest part of it. Others enjoy being around her. She is truly an integral part of the team and not just because of how talented she is.”