By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
As the younger sister of Dysart High track legend Cricket Marshall and an elite nationals sprinter herself in the 1990s, Danielle Marshall knows a rare track talent when she sees one.
Despite just two months working with her, Coach Marshall said she sees something special in Kellis junior Jae’Nisa Heckstall.
Heckstall swept the Division II hurdles events at the May 6 Division II state championships and finished second in the 100-meter dash. Yet her coach believes Heckstall is just scratching the surface of her potential.
“What stood out to me is the raw talent she has. I was thinking in the back of my head that with the right coaching support and right teaching, teammates and weightlifting program, how much of a beast she could become,” Coach Marshall said. “I’m trying to get her to understand that the hurdles are part of the sprint world, so to speak. If you love one you have to love the other. She’s got a lot to learn but she’s going to be awesome wherever she goes.”
Marshall has not worked with Heckstall that long, as the junior had to sit out the first half of the season after transferring from Avondale Westview.
Heckstall did not start running until her freshman year at Westview. Learning the basics of the hurdles took a while but she felt comfortable by her sophomore year.
As a sophomore she finished fourth in Division I in 100-meter dash and 300 hurdles. She false started the 100 hurdles final.
Heckstall said she believed she would win this year and trained a lot harder, in and out of school. At the Sun Angel Track Classic at ASU in April, she finished the 100 hurdles in 14.10 and hit the last hurdle.
“I went into state saying I’m going to get in the 13s, I’m going to PR. At the end of the day it’s all mental,” Heckstall said.
She did not post a time under 14 seconds, and few sprinters approached their personal bests on that windy day. However, she did beat two-time defending state champion Brielle Sterns of Tucson Sahuaro to claim the gold medal, edging the reigning champ by a hundredth of a second.
After setting another personal best with an 11.95 in the 100 dash at Sun Angel, Heckstall said she was more frustrated with her time of 12.66 in the state final than her second place finish to Phoenix North Canyon’s Jadyn Mays.
Though the wind again played havoc with her time in the 300 hurdles, she gained solace from holdinfg off second-place sophomore Ma’Kayla Dickerson of Laveen Betty Fairfax.
“I knew that I had to get out hard and run. As I was coming around the curve, she was right next to me. It was who wanted more. It was my state track meet and I was going to leave it all on the track,” Heckstall said.
Coach Marshall said the state meet was not her best performance but winning helped her mental confidence.
She will take that belief and competitive nature on the road this summer. Heckstall will run in state, regional and national meets for the Arizona Track Stars club, including the Great Southwest June 1-3 in Albuquerque, N.M. and New Balance Nationals. June 16-18 in Greensboro, N.C.
“It’s pretty tough competition, but if she can keep her mind straight and keep her game face on she can hang with the best in the nation. It’ll be nice to hear what she does against competition like that. It’ll just make her better,” Marshall said. “She’s a fighter and gets this fierceness when she runs. She works very hard.”
Heckstall said it’s her first year running club track and competing out of state.
She wants to post times in the national top three and sign with a university in November.
“I know I’m going to really have to work hard and push through, but I feel like (getting into the top three is possible),” Heckstall said.
The combination of Heckstall and fellow junior Alyssa Bishop (fifth in the 100 dash and sixth in the 200) led the Kellis girls to a fifth place finish in Division II.
Coach Marshall said to consistently compete at an elite level, Heckstall needs to learn proper body position, perform with consistency and work on her start. But, the coach said this natural athlete has a work ethic and competitive drive that will make her a great hurdler and sprinter.
“Every now and then you get one or two of those athletes that are so good. For the four years you can have them — or the two in this case — coaches eat that up. She’s someone you can build your team around,” Coach Marshall said.