By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – As one of the top hurdlers in the state Valerie Welch has never been much of a long-distance runner.
One of the best long jumpers in a storied list of West High jumpers and one of only 13 in state history to leap 19 feet, two and three mile runs have rarely been a part of the workout regime for Welch.
Even with her penchant for excelling in shorter races over long ones it was a decision to join the West High cross country program that proved to be the turning point for Welch.
“When she decided to do that, I knew she was all in,” West High coach Mike Parker said. “We’ve had a lot of great athletes here, some of them their lip service was as good as anything and you look for someone to show that they are all in. I knew when that Val went out for cross country she was all in.”
Welch joined the cross country program in the fall of her junior year.
What followed in the spring was the best track season of her career.
Welch set four school records last spring, won the Drake Relays long jump title and had three individual third-place finishes among four state medals.
All that success started in the fall as a junior varsity member of the cross country team.
“I don’t do anything in the fall, I like running and it’s a low pressure running with friends,” Welch said. “Coach talked to me about doing it and I could see the impact it had.”
Welch went out for cross country again this fall but she never became a distance runner, that wasn’t the objective.
She never competed in a varsity race and was a middle of the pack finisher in most junior varsity meets.
That didn’t stop her from working and working hard during the fall.
“This is long distance running and this is a girl that is the best 100 hurdler and long jumper in the state of Iowa and she had the best attendance at cross country,” Parker said. “That’s the girl that Val is. There are kids that may say I’m going to miss this on Saturday because it’s cross country and that’s just not how she ticks.”
Welch wasn’t a threat to win cross country races but that didn’t stop her from competing in them.
Coaches left the option of running races up to Welch and other track team members.
Welch wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to compete.
“You don’t feel part of the team if you aren’t doing the races,” Welch said. “It’s kind of a common struggle, everyone is running the races, it’s hard for everybody and I always felt it wasn’t as fun if you weren’t experiencing that struggle with everyone else.”
Welch is hoping her fall work turns in to another breakthrough spring on the track.
Her third-place medals in the 100 and 400 hurdles and long jump helped West High to a fourth-place team finish at the Class 4A state meet last spring.
This season Welch is hoping her first individual state title will lead West High to its first team title since 2010.
“Val is good enough to win probably whatever four individual events we put her in but she has a lot of teammates that are planning on winning individual events as well,” Parker said. “I think it was good that we left a little disappointed. We wanted to get in the top three and it came down to our last event and we came up a little short and finished fourth. That’s inspiring, nobody likes to have that moment.”
Last season Welch established herself as one of the state’s best.
She became the 13th girl in state history to leap 19 feet in the long jump, setting a school record with a jump of 19-4 in her first time in the event.
In her first season as a long jumper Welch won the Drake Relays title and placed third at the state meet.
“The first time I jumped I just said run down the run way, land on the board and go,” Welch said. “I just have kind of tried to keep that same thing. I try to do a few more things but I’ve tried to keep it simple.”
The main focus for Welch remained the hurdles where she set school records in both the 100 (14.55) and 400 (1:02.77) hurdles.
She also ran a leg on the school-record setting shuttle hurdle relay team and helped that squad place fourth at state.
This season Welch wants more than third place finishes at the state meet.
“It was super frustrating that I didn’t jump as well or run as well as I could have,” Welch said. “It was disappointing to not perform my best.”
Welch has secured her future.
A 4.0 student, Welch will run track at the University of Colorado where she plans to study bio-chemical engineering.
She visited campus the first week in February and committed shortly after.
“I just really, really liked the atmosphere and the people,” Welch said. “After that last day I saw a little bit of their indoor meet and I was on the car on the way to my flight home and I thought I really liked it her I think I want to do this.”
Welch plans to end her career at West High with her best season yet.
She wasn’t happy with getting third last year in her events,” Parker said. “What we have seen this year she is way ahead of where she was last year in everything.”