Soccer has been such a big part of Jen Williams’ life for so long that it’s no wonder deep into this blinking-yellow, inside-out and upside-down academic year of everything in calculated, cautious steps that the 17-year-old junior from Rochester got her head mixed up with her heart and wound up at the Fall II dance with the wrong date.
Two soccer practices, and Williams realized she was in love with the other date, track-and-field. So she fessed up to her coaches and, with their support, joined her ORR track teammates to begin preparation for an abbreviated Fall II season that opens with a home meet against Wareham on Saturday, March 27, beginning at 10:00 am.
“[Soccer has] always been one of my main passions, and since I started spring track in my freshman year, I immediately fell in love with it,” said Williams, who is expected to make core contributions alongside senior leaders Emma Carroll, Jill Lang, and Teagan Shea. “It kind of took over soccer in a sense, so this year deciding between them was definitely one of the most difficult decisions.
“I originally thought playing soccer would be more of a fun sport for me, something I would enjoy more since track has become more serious to me and with schools and colleges [recruiting], stuff like that. But I played for two days on the soccer field, then I realized [the track] is where I belong.”
After playing on the varsity soccer squad in her freshman and sophomore years, starting as a 10th grader, Williams said girls soccer coach Jeff Lombard was 100 percent supportive of her decision. “It was a difficult decision, and it was difficult talking to him about it, but I knew this is what I wanted to do, and he supported me fully,” she said. “My coaches supported me fully in whatever I wanted to do.”
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association managed to create a window, albeit abbreviated from the usual schedule, for student-athletes to compete in varsity sports denied them in the fall of 2020. In the case of cross-country, schools can opt to use the Fall II window for their winter track team instead, and that’s what Old Rochester Regional High School has done.
Estimating her height to be between 5-foot-10 and 5-11, Williams will help lead ORR in the 55-meter hurdles and the high jump. Her initial track experience was in eighth grade, but without proper technique, she didn’t realize she would enjoy it the way she does now.
“Freshman year I tried high-jumping, but I was absolutely horrendous at it. I just gave up,” she said, pointing to a lack of knowledge and execution. “It was both. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I didn’t have the coaching experience, so I was like, ‘Alright, we’ll just stick to the sprints.'”
Out of Williams’ stick-to-it-iveness, combined with some detail work under the tutelage of event coaches Sean Medeiros (hurdling) and Meri Mattson (jumping), she has emerged as a team leader. Though Fall II “indoor” meets will be held outdoors, event distances will remain the same as traditional indoor track.
Crediting her parents for always encouraging her to try outside-the-box activities to gain experiences, Williams gave the high jump a second shot during her sophomore indoor season.
“I was actually better than I thought I’d be at it, so I just stuck with it,” she said. “I’m definitely not as good as I should be at it, but I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at it.”
Williams’ older brother, Ray Williams, played tennis at ORR (2019) and is a chemistry major attending UMass in Amherst.
At ORR, track has long been a family tradition led by head coach Cindy Tilden, whose husband Bill Tilden is athletic director and former cross-country and track coach.
“I think we’re a close-knit group, and whether anybody wanted to join or not, we always welcome them with open arms,” said Williams. “The training’s tough, and it’s difficult to come in every day and work hard, but I definitely think we all benefit from it…. We are all extraordinary athletes. I think everyone here offers something to the team.”
As surely as coaches want all their athletes pulling the rope in the same direction, Williams is grateful for the school’s support when her internal picture was cloudy.
“I think this is one of the best decisions I made…. [Track] is like a family to me,” she said.
By Mick Colageo