Third in a 4-part series, co-published with Runnerspace.com/DyeStat.com, on some of the leading athletes registered for the 2018 NBNI.
Nathan Patterson – 7-2 jumper leapfrogs field to become favorite
The 2018 indoor season for the boys’ high jump has been a solid one, nationally, with four 7-footers and a total of 10 over 6-10 or better. As the top indoor and outdoor returnee from last year, Plymouth (Ind.) senior Nathan Patterson (7-1 in, 7-2 out in ’17) was always going to be among the leaders, once he got going. How he did get going was kind of interesting: He came down to the Dunamis Super Meet in Georgia for his debut and won at 6-9.75. But then he asked for some “exhibition” attempts before the mats were put away and cleared 7-2. Three weeks later, in his first try at a Hoosier state qualifying meet, Patterson got his official 7-2 and is now the national indoor leader and arguably the NBNI favorite.
Patterson has an interesting story, a football/basketball player in middle school who took up golf as a spring sport – and had unsatisfactory results. He switched to track, tried the high jump and cleared an eye-popping 6-3 – not bad for an 8th-grader. An injury compromised his freshman year, but he made seven feet as a sophomore. Then last year, he had great consistency between 6-10 and 7-2, twice clearing the latter mark and then taking 2nd at NBNO with 7-0.25. Now a USC signee, the 6-6 senior will take on many of those top jumpers – including 7-1.5 leaper Mayson Conner and Kyle Garland, the defending pentathlon champ who cleared 7-2 last year – but he’s now the guy to beat.
Jenna Rogers – Everyone knows who Rogers is now
It would be an understatement to say Jenna Rogers was a revelation at last spring’s NBNO. A Rutherford HS (NJ) freshman, she came into the competition having developed solid consistency between 5-6 and 5-8, clearing the latter barrier a total of three times during the season – good stuff from a 9th-grader. But in Greensboro, she found her groove like never before. She cleared three straight bars to 5-7, then nailed a PR 5-8.75 on her first try as well. Then Rogers shocked with a 5-10.75 on her 2nd try, followed by a freshman class national record 6-0.75 – also on her 2nd attempt. She had beaten favorite Jelena Rowe, a consistent 5-10 to 6-0 jumper, and become one of the most dramatic success stories of the meet.
This winter has been different, now with expectation and a target on her back. Rogers has been challenged to surpass her PR, but has still been better than last spring on the whole. She is unbeaten and has cleared 5-10 or better in four meets. She was invited to compete against the pros, including new legend Vashti Cunningham, at the Millrose Games – and was not satisfied with her 5-8.75 in 6th place. Rogers then showed impressive resolve by coming back two days later back at the Armory to tie her seasonal best at 5-11 to win the Varsity Classic. Four other jumpers in the NBNI field have leapt 5-10 or better – but only Rogers has a six-foot jump on her resume.
Zachery Bradford – Emerging co-favorite looking for 18
Building off an outstanding 2017, Zach Bradford (Bloomington, IL senior) made the most of his fourth trip to the Reno National Pole Vault Summit. He raised his PR by four inches to 17-8 – 2nd only to Sondre Guttormsen among preps – and claimed the runner-up spot as well as a US#3. Now, with 19-footer and defending champ Mondo Duplantis passing up NBNI and Guttormsen unfortunately injured, Bradford joins KC Lightfoot with favorite status going into the Armory Saturday. And, if you can’t have prep vaulting’s two current 18-footers, how about two 17-8 performers who would love nothing more than to join that exclusive club?
Ever since a 15-10 at Reno and a pair of 16-footers to close out his sophomore indoor season in 2016, Bradford has been ascending to the elite level. Outdoors that season, he had to settle for 16-1 as a best, with a state title, but then last winter he improved to 16-9.25 and made the NBNI podium in 4th. He then reached 17 feet in June, and followed with a stupendous PR and state record 17-4 a few weeks later. At NBNO, where several were off form, he cleared “only” 16-5.25, but improved to the runner-up spot. Bradford finished the summer with two JO titles. Now with his 17-8 PR, four total 17-foot meets this winter, and a 17-4 just last weekend – he’s ready to fight for the title.
Reagann LeLeux – Into the spotlight with senior year surge
When you’re a pole vaulter and have an older sister like Morgann LeLeux – multiple HS national champ, NCAA All-American, Olympic Trails finalist – it can be challenging to find your own groove. Reagann LeLeux was competing at the Louisiana state level as early as 7th-grade, per state rules, in 2013 – two years after her sister graduated Catholic HS-New Iberia. Through her sophomore year, she had progressed up to 12-8. But 2017, especially outdoors, saw the progress halt.
2018, however, has seen a new Reagann emerge – starting with an eye-opening PR 13-3 in mid-December. She raised that to 13-6.25 at the LSU Classic, then at the Reno Pole Vault Summit in mid-January, was victorious with another wonderful new PR of 13-10 – then U.S. #1 and still standing at #2 now. The younger LeLeux definitely has found her groove and, with the absence of US#1 Erica Ellis in the NBNI field, is the clear favorite to win the title. Seven years ago this weekend, Morgann LeLeux was the last athlete competing the final afternoon of the first NSAF indoor nationals with New Balance, clearing a then-meet record 13-8.25. Reagann has a great chance to beat that Sunday.
Donovan Louis – National leader looks to settle score
It would be fair to say that Donovan Louis (Potomac, VA senior) has a couple of scores to settle coming into this weekend’s NBNI boys’ long jump final. Last winter, Louis had improved to 23-10.5 to win the Virginia 5A state title, but then at NBNI he barely made 21 feet and was far from the podium. Then in the spring, he progressed to 24-8 for another state title, but was somewhat off form at 22-11.75 at NBNO – not as bad as NBNI, but still back in 15th place. He would end the summer on a stronger note, though, finishing 2nd at AAU JOs with a jump of nearly 24 feet.
So this winter has partly been about becoming more consistent for Louis. He has not PR’d, but his 24-3.25 from the mid-January St. Christopher’s Invite has been the national leader for nearly two months. He still hasn’t gotten to the point where he’s in at least the 23s every meet, but he’s getting there. At indoor state, he had a solid 23-5.5, but was beaten by a surprise breakthrough performance by Jevon La Pierre of L.C. Bird HS. If there’s ever been a time for Louis to truly bring his ‘A’ game to the big state, it’s this weekend at NBNI.
Lanae-Tava Thomas – Joining the all-time greats in the LJ
Lanae-Tava Thomas has long been one of the nation’s great jump-sprint talents. As a Rush-Henrietta, NY freshman in 2015, she was already long-jumping nearly 19 feet, placing high in state meet sprints and part of the national-record-setting sprint medley relay team at NBNI. For most of her career, however, she was only the 2nd-biggest star at the school that boasted two-time World 800m and many-time NBN champ Sammy Watson. But now Watson is at Texas A&M and Thomas is better than ever as a senior. She’s topped the national LJ list all winter, including a 21-8 that is #2 all-time (her outdoor PR is 21-11, also #2 all-time), and also has been at or near the top of every sprint list from 55 to 300 meters.
Last weekend at the NY state meet, Thomas tripled the LJ (20-4.5), 55 (6.86) and 300 (38.63) – giving her seven individual state crowns indoors (plus four outdoors). Now comes her chance to top an individual podium at NBNI for the first time. She was 4th in the long jump here last year and has also taken 3rd in the 200 each of the past two years. She has been an NBN champ three times before, but all on relays. But now Thomas has a great chance to not only win the LJ, but attack Tara Davis’s national record – as well as high finishes in the 60 and 200.
Jequan Hogan – Triple threat for Colorado heads east
If it seems like there’s a disproportionate number of outstanding athletes from Colorado here at The Armory this weekend, battling for NBNI titles, that’s because it’s the truth. Hurdler Emily Sloan, multi-eventer Anna Hall and jumper/sprinter Sydnee Larkin are already familiar names to NSAF meet fans – and all have a great chance to win or at least place high this weekend. But the name Jequan Hogan might be unfamiliar to most of the country. That’s because other than Great Southwest and a few JO meets, he really hasn’t competed outside of Colorado before. But in last spring’s 5A state outdoor meet, Hogan triple jumped a state record 50-7.25 – the furthest of any non-senior in the nation last year. This weekend, Hogan will make his debut not only in New York, but basically east of the Mississippi.
A Fountain-Fort Carson HS senior, Hogan was tripling more than 41 feet as a freshman, then reached 44-9.5 outdoors as a sophomore. Last winter he started competing indoors, and hit 47-0.5. Before state, however, his PR was 48-0 – so the record leap he came up with there represented a massive improvement of more than 2-1/2 feet. But as if to erase any doubts, he more than backed it up with a powerful 50-4.75 victory at Great Southwest a few weeks later. This winter, Hogan – who also high jumped 6-10.75, long-jumped 22-5 and ran 14.50 in the 110H last spring – has been good, if not quite great: Three meets over 48 with a best of 48-11. Pushed by the nation’s best this weekend, we’ll see if he can get back up over 50.
Lexi Ellis – Another formidable NBN and East Coast newcomer
Lexi Ellis has been a national-level star in the triple jump since her freshman year at Curtis HS in Washington and competing with the Flying AJ’s Track Club. She and her 9th-grade teammate Saudia James-Heard, a member of the NSAF’s Project Triple Jump, were scoring and winning at the state level since 2015 and burning up the club and JO circuit as well. Ellis reached 42-4.25 as a freshman in the TJ, though she was more consistent at the 38-39 level. Injury cut short her sophomore year, but last year she came back and reset her PR at 42-7.25 leading into 4A state – which she won.
Now as a senior in 2018, she’s starting to get that consistency – if indoor results are any indication. Her results include a 42-3.5 at the UW Invite and a triumphant 42-7.75 at the Simplot Games last month, plus two other meets over 40. This weekend will represent her first meet east of the Mississippi, as well, in addition to being her first NBN meet. The competition is formidable, led by 3-time NBN champ Jasmine Moore (2017 indoor, 2016-17 outdoor), but Ellis is just two inches behind her on the national leaderboard and should push her to the limit.