Variety’s Sake

Central's Lexi Keller clears the bar during high jump competition on May 6 at the Shenandoah County meet in Quicksburg. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WOODSTOCK — The nagging discomfort from the tendinitis in her left and right hip flexors began for Central High School junior Lexi Keller about a year ago.

Keller, a three-sport athlete for the Falcons, said the injury was “definitely a big problem” during cross country season in the fall, but with some physical therapy and a switch from basketball to swimming in the winter she was ready for the spring track and field season.

The best medicine, Keller said, would be for her to stop running and give her hips some prolonged rest.

“But that’s not going to happen,” she added before a recent track practice.

It’s not that Keller is putting her body in harm’s way at the risk of future injury. Central head track and field coach Rick Lytton said Keller is “very faithful” in getting her injuries taken care of, never missing her daily sessions with the school’s athletic trainer during lunch period and after school. Keller simply enjoys running and she hasn’t had enough issues with her hips this spring to justify taking herself out of competition — and she has continued to thrive on the track this season.

Keller is second in the area in the 800-meter run (2:28.21), runs the anchor leg of the Falcons’ 4×800 relay (11:00.90) that is also second in the area and competes occasionally in the 4×400 relay as an alternate for the Falcons. But she isn’t limited to strictly running events — the junior is tied for the area lead in the high jump, as she consistently clears the bar at 4 feet, 10 inches, a state-qualifying mark.

“She can do any of the field events,” Lytton said. “Now, she’s never tried the shot or the discus but I think with a little work she could do those also. But she has done the long jump. She could probably triple jump also, and then she can run any distance, we have discovered, from 200 up to 3,200. She’s just a good, very coachable individual.”

In the past Keller had opted to stick to the sprints during track season while saving the longer distances for the various cross-country courses she tackles each fall. This season, however, Keller has carried her distance running over to the track.

She’s dabbled briefly in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races this spring but she generally sticks to her favorite event, the 800.

“I like how it’s a distance race but it’s also fast and you don’t have to spend as much time on the track as you would for the two-mile,” Keller said of the 800. “It’s quicker. I like that pace of it.”

Lytton said 800 runners are typically taught to run the race at a pace where both 400-meter laps are run in the same amount of time (there are some runners who run quicker second laps, he added). But Keller said the 800 is still too unfamiliar for her to have developed a true racing strategy.

“I just try to stay behind the person that’s in front and I try to save enough so that I can out-sprint them at the end. That’s my strategy this far,” said Keller, who is four seconds off the Group 3A girls state qualifying standard (2:24.22) in the event. “I hope that I’ll better my techniques so I can pace by myself without needing someone else.”

Even without a strategy, Keller is still having success in the 800 – so much, in fact, that Lytton thinks Keller has a shot to break the Central High School record (2:24) in the event, which Lytton said was set by Patricia Bladen in the early 1980s.

“I would be really tickled if she could break the 800 record,” Lytton said. “She has a ways to go, but that’s not impossible. That record has been around quite a while now and I think she could do it. She’s still learning to run the 800. She has a fabulous finish in that. That would be a nice goal that I have for her this year. But if she doesn’t break the record this year that’s OK, she has another year to work on that.”

Keller didn’t explicitly say she would like to break the 800 record this season, but she does hope she can run a state-qualifying time in the event over the next few weeks, which would put her right in position to eclipse the school record.

Keller, who helped Central’s 4×800 relay team break the school record at last year’s Group 3A state meet, said her primary goal is to qualify for the state championships in two different events. She’s already qualified in the high jump, but is hoping to be clearing the bar at 5 feet by season’s end.

“I can get my body over five. It’s a problem with flicking my feet up at the end. My heels seem to always clip the bar on the way down,” Keller said. “That’s my problem that I need to concentrate on.”

Keller has four postseason meets left – including Wednesday’s Bull Run District championships at Strasburg – to accomplish her goals. But whatever happens over the next several weeks, Lytton knows he can anticipate more quality contributions from Keller again in her senior year.

“She’s a delight to have on the team,” Lytton said. “We expect a lot of good things from her next year. We expect her to be a good senior leader.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com