By David Fong
TROY — Lenea Browder still thinks the best is yet to come.
That in itself should be enough to make every other girls thrower in the state of Ohio shake in their spikes.
“It’s definitely important that I don’t stop coming on strong and getting better,” said Browder, the sensational sophomore shot put and discus thrower on the Troy girls track and field team. “I know I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement. I want to keep working and getting better.”
A better Browder? That truly would be a sight to behold, considering all she’s already accomplished in her relatively short career. As a freshmen, she was a state qualifier in the discus — she placed ninth, just missing out on a spot on the podium — and a regional qualifier in the shot put. She also set school records in both events, then has shattered both of those records at seemingly every meet at which she has competed this season.
“She’s special,” Troy throwing coach Aaron Gibbons said. “She’s a phenomenal athlete, but she’s also a great worker. You see a lot of phenomenal athletes at the high school level, but a lot of them don’t achieve the kinds of things she’s achieving because they aren’t willing to put in the work. She’s a kid who is willing to do all the work to get better.”
In track and field, most records are attained incrementally — an inch here or there in field events, a few hundredths of a second shaved off in a running event —but not so with Browder. She’s breaking records in an unprecedented fashion. Last year she set the school record in the discus with a throw of 139-1 — breaking the previous school record of 125-1 by 14 feet. At the Miami County Invitational this year, she broke her own record by 11 feet with a throw of 150-1.
As a freshman, she threw the shot put 43-2 to break Kelsey Walters’ school record of 41-10. Walters, it bears mentioning, recently broke the school record in the shot put at Ball State University — a mark that had stood since 1991. This past Sunday at the Criss and Rita Somerlot Field Event Classic in Centerville, she uncorked a massive throw of 48-0, besting her own school record by more than 4 feet.
“I knew I had PR’d when I threw it, but I thought it was maybe 46 feet or something like that,” Browder said. “I had no idea I had thrown 48. I was blown away. I was super excited.”
Browder’s epic heaves are beginning to draw attention across the state. Her recent throw in the shot put is the longest in any of Ohio’s three divisions this spring by more than 2 feet (45-8.25 is the second-best throw by Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Sophia Williams) and the best in Division I by a little less than 4 feet. Her top throw in the discus is the second-best in any division in the state and tops in Division I by almost 10 feet.
Browder, however, refuses to get too excited about her accomplishments so far this season. She far less concerned about what happens in April and more concerned with what happens in the first weekend in June at the state track and field meet in Columbus, which is the meet she’s been eyeing since last season ended.
That’s because things didn’t go as Browder had planned last year. First she missed qualifying for state in the shot put, despite being one of the top-ranked competitors at the regional meet. Then at state — perhaps overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment as one of only three freshmen in the 16-girl field — she only threw 125-10, about 13 feet less than she had throws just a week prior.
All that disappointment did, however, was serve as motivation for this year and has continued to help her keep her focus as this season has unfolded.
“I definitely worked a lot harder in the offseason,” Browder said. “I want to get to state and do better this year. This year in the shot put my goal was to be consistently at 42 or 43 and throw a 46 PR. In the discus, my goal was to be consistently in the 130s and throw a 150 PR. Now that I’ve down those, I have to set new goals for myself. I don’t want to peak too early in the season. I want to keep going and getting better.”
Which is part of the incredible thing about Browder. Not only can she continue to improve this year, but she’ll still have two years to get better after that. No sophomore in the state is close to throwing what she currently is.
“Right now, there are no limits to what she can do,” Gibbons said. “Nothing she does surprises me anymore. She is mature beyond her years, really. She’s hard-working, she’s humble and she’s focused. When you add those things in to her natural athletic ability, the sky really is the limit for her.”
Which could mean the best really is yet to come.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong