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COLUMBUS -- One last time, that Garrettsville grin glimmered across the capital of the Buckeye State.
It came after Lauren Jones' penultimate throw, a fling of 157 feet, 9 inches that all but sealed her third consecutive Division II discus championship.
"It was awesome," Garfield throws coach Jim Pfleger said. "She was nice and relaxed all day today and real business-like."
Jones led throughout the Friday morning event, but that throw brought her widest grin of the day. After, Jones beamed and clapped her hands. Ten minutes later, she was a champion once more.
Jones, a Garfield senior and valedictorian, isn't the first female thrower to capture three straight titles in the discus, but she's one of a select few. Still, her smile is as much to explain for her popularity in Portage County as her medals.
"As the athletic director and a coach, it's kind of what you want to model all your kids after," Pfleger said. "She does a little bit of everything, excels at everything and she's always smiling, always fun to be around."
Prior to her top throw, the competition had been creeping up on Jones, who led from preliminaries until the medal stand. Newton Falls' Kayla Barreca tossed a 147-1 and 148-1 to begin the finals, with Jones at 153-2, after beating Jones in the Austintown Fitch Regional. Jones' focus was elsewhere -- she was eyeing the state record.
"I was looking at that 162-8 sign for the meet record," Jones said with a laugh. "I was thinking, 'That would be a nice throw today.' I know I can't control anybody else except for me, so I just have to set goals for myself."
Jones didn't quite get the state meet record, but mustered the next best response, sending a shot to right-center. There was no wobble like there was on her preliminary-best throw -- just a soaring discus with perfect trajectory and spin.
It was refreshing for Jones, who entered Friday in a self-described slump. This, of course, while placing first in the Portage Trail Conference championship meet, first in her district meet and second in her regional meet, but the defending champion holds herself to a high standard. After losing her chance at becoming a four-time regional winner, Jones said she was mad at herself. Still, she didn't worry. She said her father, Bruce, always called her the "come-through kid" because he told her he would "always put my money on you." So, after losing her chance at being a four-time regional winner, she went about doing what it took to become a three-time state champion.
"That wasn't myself," Jones said. "I did not throw like the athlete I am, like the thrower I am."
This week, Jones said she and her coaches focused on positivity. Even their critiques were intensely positive -- "you're doing so great, but let's just add one more thing."
"I just wasn't as positive as I should be," Jones said. "This week at practice was definitely very helpful. I not only threw a lot by myself, but my coaches were extremely motivational this week and I needed that."
The feeling was she was trying too hard -- and while 110 percent is good in most things, it can be counterproductive in discus.
"You would never think that if you tried too hard, it would be bad for you, but in discus, that's what it is," Jones said. "When you try too hard, you end up pulling or muscling it. Your form isn't the same."
Her day started with Jones again a tad frustrated with a shot that any of her competitors would have accepted with a wide grin. Her last preliminary throw of 153-2 was strong but wobbly.
"The throw felt good, but I knew that I had so much more to give," Jones said. "I was happy with the throw, but I wanted more. I've never going to be satisfied with a 153."
Jones still feels that way -- even with another gold medal hanging around her neck. With the shot and long jump Saturday, Midwest and national events looming and a collegiate career at Oklahoma after that, she'll have her chances.
"157 was good enough for today -- but I do want more," Jones said.