By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Casey Jones probably didn’t expect much when she started attending McAlester track and field practices in the spring of her freshman year. She’d played basketball when she was younger, she said, only tried track because her friends invited her, and only started running hurdles because coach Richard Carney made her.
Carney’s recommendation worked out pretty well: as a senior, Jones is now a three-time state qualifier and potential state champion in the hurdles.
“She had great explosion,” Carney said of Jones as a freshman. “She had not great speed, but she had speed enough that I thought she’d be successful at the hurdles. Good flexibility.”
Born in McAlester and a product of McAlester Public Schools, Jones started out running just the 300-meter hurdles. The longer distances between the hurdles in the 300 made them easier for less-experienced runners, and Jones made State in the 300.
As a sophomore, Jones added the 100-meter hurdles to her repertoire. The shorter distance required her to learn a new form, jumping every three steps instead of every five for the 300.
“I just took it one hurdle at a time,” Jones said. “You kind of have to find a rhythm.”
Jones made State in both the 100 and 300 hurdles as a sophomore in 2012. That year’s team also won Regionals, and the season still stands out as one of Jones’ favorite track memories.
“I liked the people I ran with,” Jones said of that 2012 season. “Most of them are gone now.”
The 2013 Buffaloes and Lady Buffaloes didn’t have a home track on which to practice, as the one at Hook Eales Stadium was under construction. That didn’t prevent Jones from returning to State in the 100 and 300 hurdles, finishing eighth and second, respectively.
“It’s exciting, because there are lots of people, but you do get nervous, running with the fastest people,” Jones said of her first time at State. But as a sophomore, “I kind of knew what was going on,” and as a junior, “I wasn’t really nervous.”
Jones tripped in the 100 hurdles at the 2013 state meet, which might’ve cost her a state championship. She was leading at the halfway point of the 300 hurdles, but couldn’t keep up her pace through to the finish line.
That lack of conditioning, Carney said, came from not being able to practice during the season. With the new track installed at Hook Eales Stadium, Jones said she’s already started to see improvement.
“It’s a lot better than grass and dirt,” Jones said of the new track. “It makes you run a little faster.”
Jones said keeping her trailing leg from bumping the hurdles will be the key to winning a state championship this season. McAlester’s competed in just one track meet so far, with Jones placing second in the 300 hurdles and third in the 100 hurdles March 14 in Glenpool.
Both Carney and Jones attributed those finishes to a lack of conditioning early in the track season.
“It gets easier,” Jones said.
“You start out kind of rough, especially with the hurdles.”
However this season ends, Jones said she plans to go to college next year, but she’s unsure if she’ll run track.
Carney said a number of schools have shown interest in Jones, among them Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Bacone College in Muskogee and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Arkansas, a Division I school, might be especially appealing to Jones, who listed it and Oklahoma State University in Stillwater as her two dream schools.
“She has some opportunities,” Carney said.
Once in college, Jones said she plans to major in elementary school education. She said she’s always wanted to be a teacher, having been especially inspired by fourth-grade teacher Lindsey McMullen at Edmond Doyle Elementary.
“She just made it fun,” Jones said of McMullen, who has since moved away from McAlester. “We did a lot of activities that were kind of hands-on.”
Though track takes up most of her free time now, Jones said other activities have in the past included working for Western Sizzlin, taking college-level algebra at Eastern Oklahoma State College in McAlester and attending Apostolic Church of the Rock in Wilburton.
Jones might not have expected to become a three- and likely four-time state hurdler when she tried out as a freshman. And it took her a little while to develop the conditioning necessary to run track.
But four years later, Jones has found the rhythm necessary to star on the hurdles.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.