Martinsville senior De’Niya Gravely ran track as a freshman and junior at her former high school in North Carolina, but was hardly in love with the sport.
“I ran freshman year because my dad made me,” Gravely said. “Sophomore year I didn’t do it. I hated track. Junior year I was like, I wasn’t going to just sit around so I was going to run track. And then this year I just stuck to it and made a lot of progression.”
It may have taken some time for Gravely to find the parts of the sport she enjoys, but now in her final year of her high school career, she’s heading into the VHSL Class 2 state meet undefeated in the 100 and 200 meter dashes this season. Gravely won both, as well as the high jump, triple jump, and 4x100 meter relay at the Region 2C championship last week, and will compete in all five at states this weekend at East Rockingham High School.
While Gravely said she wasn’t nearly as dedicated to the sport last year as she wishes she would have been, the transfer to Martinsville has helped her fall in love with the sport.
“Coach (Kelvin) Jackson and (Lynwood) Dodson had a lot of faith in me which pushed me. They had a lot to play in it,” she said. “I used to hate running. I hated practice. Now I look forward to practice because I know if I keep practicing I’m going to reach this goal.”
The 100 meter dash is where Gravely has been able to truly shine this year – she won by running 12.49 at regions last week - though she added the 200 to her repertoire late in the season, and proved to be a natural in that event as well. She ran 25.96 at regions in that event last week.
It’s not just running events. Jackson, the girls head coach at Martinsville, said he’s seen the senior get better and better in all aspects of the sport as the season has progressed. He points to her making a late change to her triple jump approach that added more than 36 inches to her previous best jump. She jumped 38-10.75 at regions to win by more than three feet.
“She came in maybe two weeks ago and she had seen a technique someone else was using, and I’m old school so I was telling her, ‘We don’t need to do this, we need to stick with the horse that brought us here.’ But she was determined she was going to do what she saw which was to change her first phase,” Jackson said. “And she did. She went out, we worked on it… and in practice she jumped a 39. So when we got to the met her first jump was a 38.10. That’s probably three feet more than she’s ever jumped. She didn’t have to jump anymore because that won.”
Gravely jumped 5-feet-2-inches in the high jump for her fourth individual title at regions.
She’ll face tougher competition this weekend, but Jackson said Gravely’s strength is her competitive nature and the fact she simply doesn’t like to lose.
“The one thing about her is when she sets her mind to doing something she pretty much does it,” he said. “And it would surprise me if she’s not a multiple state champion at the end of this week. But that’s something that will have to take care of itself. I don’t want to put any pressure on her. She just needs to show up and do what she’s been doing all year and she’ll be fine.
“But she’s been a joy to work with. She come to practice every day. She drives the other kids to work harder, and that’s one of the things we’ve been missing.”
“A lot of emotions,” Gravely said. “I’m nervous and excited. My expectations are a lot higher than they were when I started.”
“I just want to go because if I think about it too much I’m going to get nervous and I’m scared it’s going to affect me so I just want to go.”
Gravely will be the anchor leg of the Martinsville girls’ 4x100 meter relay team, which won at regions last week after running 50.49, more than a full second better than second place. Gravely will be joined by Jakayse Monroe and Amber Rountree, who will both also compete in the 100 meter dash, and junior Leighton Jamison.
The girls are seeded first going into the race this weekend.
“Going in with the No. 1 ranked time, I’m expecting to do well,” Jackson said of the relay. “They’ve been steady. I’m hoping that the pressure doesn’t bother them. I’m hoping everybody can remain calm and get some rest the night before. We’ll see what happens. The sky is the limit for them.”