Though she’s “only” a sophomore, this was a long time coming for Samantha Zelden.
The St. Scholastica product first picked up a javelin for competition in seventh grade. Her throw of 103 feet at the Junior Olympics told her and coach Paul Bowman there might be a future in the event for her.
Subsequent finishes of eighth and sixth at the Class 5A state championship meet in eighth and ninth grade emboldened that thought and confidence.
Saturday, and again on the biggest stage, Zelden did what perhaps seemed as though she was on track to accomplishing as a junior or senior.
Bowman’s eager prodigy had reached the summit of the event, smiling broadly as she stood on the Bernie Moore Track Stadium podium as the Class 4A javelin champion.
With a state record throw to accentuate the moment.
“I’m just really excited,” Zelden said. “Anytime you have a close competition like we just had, it brings out the best in everybody. Just being a sophomore, it’s like, ‘Where do you go from here?’ I mean, I’ve been doing this for four years. I remember where I started, and now I just threw 146!”
Zelden emerged victorious after a back-and-forth battle with St. Thomas Moore’s Jaime Landry. In competition that elevated both to leads and state records multiple times within a few minutes of each other, Zelden would trump the field with a fling of 146 feet. Landry finished second with an effort of 140-08.
Across the way, Bowman was coordinating the boys javelin area and could only sneak the occasional glance the 35 yards or so over at the girls’ area.
“She just keeps on improving and learning” Bowman said. “She’s very attentive. And she plays softball too, so I don’t even have as much time coaching her as I’d like. She’s come a long way in four years.”
Zelden’s effort and enthusiasm helped her team to a Class 4A championship. Opelousas was crowned 4A boys champion after a thrilling third-place finish in the 4x400-merter relay — the final event — gave them the needed points to squeeze by Benton.
In Class 4A, other New Orleans area athletes were no exception.
Zelden’s St. Scholastica teammate Carley Boyce won the 1,600-meter run on what will soon be her home track. The senior will attend LSU beginning this fall on a track and field scholarship.
“It’s such a feeling of accomplishment,” she said. “I never really think about me winning while I’m running. It’s more about getting my team points. So that’s what makes it so great ... to finish like this is exciting.”
Another St. Scholastica girl, Madison McDaniel, would later stake her claim as champion of the 800 meters. She did so in dramatic fashion, battling past a handful of runners and just edging out Cecilia’s Carlie Calais at the finish line.
Then there was the Edna Karr 4x100 tandem of Desmond Holmes, Robinson Najee’, Kaylon Beverly and Glenn Irons. The group did as Karr runners had done before them but were no less excited: They won.
And Ursuline Academy’s Lauren Parker, who’s 5-2 high jump placed her atop the state heap. Parker fended off St. Michael’s Joy Onwuzuligbo.
In the field events, it proved to be Robert Kennedy’s time to shine. For a second time.
The Belle Chasse senior out-tossed the competition en route to his second straight discus title. In 2012, Kennedy placed second.
When asked his feelings on his high school career closing, Kennedy paused.
“I tried not to think about it too much, but it was always there,” he said. “It’s just really exciting to go out with a win and be able to help my team. I’ve had some success, but I owe that to coaching and technique. I’m not always the most athletic, but I’ve got the best technique.”
Moments after Kennedy left the first-place podium of the championship stand, East Jefferson’s Logan Johnson was in that spot, having won the girls’ triple jump. The University of Mobile-bound senior appeared to revel more in being an example to teammates than winning.
“My teammates look up to me and I want to be a good example,” Johnson said. “It feels really good. ... I just want to tell them, when anybody starts at something, it’s at rock bottom. But you can go anywhere from there.”
Salmen’s Aaron Craig finished second in the boys’ high jump with a best of 6-4. Craig was outheighted by Kwame McGee of Northwood, whose 6-10 jump is one of the nation’s best.
The Edna Karr boys 4x200-meter relay team was nipped at the finish line by champion Northside.