Kenya Livingston admits that in the first two years of her Rocky River track career, she has relied primarily on her natural athletic ability.
However, in that same span, the Rocky River junior has not only established herself as one of the top high jumpers in the state, but also in the nation.
Livingston had the No. 1 high jump in the state both indoors (5-8 at the 4A state championships at Feb. 13), and outdoors (5-10 at the Hawk Invitational, Mar. 26). She also won the N.C. 4A state championships in outdoor and indoor high jumps.
Livingston’s outdoor jump is the 6th-best in the country, while hrt indoor high jump was No. 14 in the nation.
While Livingston won the high jump at 20 of the 22 meets she competed in last season, the two she didn’t win at the New Balance Nationals, both indoors and outdoors, are still weighing heavily on her mind.
Livingston says finishing nearly dead last at both of the national meets has only motivated her more.
So Livingston’s goal this season? Win every meet.
"When I look at any list of the top high jumpers in the state or the nation or even just meet results, and don’t see my name on top it just makes me want to work harder," Livingston said. "My main goal this year in to win a national championship and get on top of those lists (high jump). I feel like my name is on the line."
Rocky River track coach, Antoine Sidberry, says Livingston has to focus on all the little things that will add up to make a big difference.
"The hardest thing to do after you’ve had the type of success that Kenya has had is (to) focus on all the small incremental, things that make you a better jumper," Sidberry said, “because even on her worst days, she still wins (in Charlotte area) with her raw talent. Taking the next step and getting to work in the weight room and taking all the technique training serious is a challenge, because it can be boring. But if Kenya can get stronger and more technically sound, she could become the best high jumper in the nation."
While Livingston says she is focused on all the little things, she has big-time goals for this year, as she hopes to clear 6-feet.
Coach Sidberry says "she regularly jumps over 6-feet with her body, but is at like 5-foot-10 with her legs or feet."
Livingston has successfully jumped 5-11 in practice, but is eager to go even higher in real competition.
"Six feet is a major goal, and to be just two inches off and know I’m capable makes me want it even more," Livingston said. "But to get to six-feet and even higher, I know I have to get stronger in the weight room and be more precise in my technique. You have to be sound in every little thing you do in the high jump, because one misstep, one mistake can throw the whole jump off. If I want the big results, I have be willing to do all the little things that will get me there."
While Livingston wants to repeat as the 4A state champion in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, she is also focused on winning a New Balance National championship in both seasons.
All of her success has also helped her earn the attention of multiple Division I track programs, as letters from schools like University of North Carolina to Louisiana State University LSU) to Southern California to Texas A&M to Virginia Tech and more continue to roll in each week.
But Livingston, who is just 16 years old, is staying focused on the process. She says she has a lot of help on a daily from her mom, Janine, Coach Sidberry and her Rocky River teammates.
"I’ve had a lot of success in the last two years, but I want to do a lot more and jump a lot higher," Livingston said. "But, being the best is not something that just happens. You have to be willing work for it."
Charlotte Observer Indoor Track Athletes To Watch
Gracie Whelan, Providence Day, Sr.: Chargers’ standout ranked in the top 10 in the state last indoor season in both the 400 and 500-meter dash and looks to be one of the fastest runners in state in both events this winter.
Cambrea Sturgis, A.L. Brown, Jr.: Wonders’ standout has proven she is one of the fastest girls in the state, finishing in top three of the 100 and 200-meter dash at the 4A outdoor state meet and in the 55-meter and 300-meter dash at 4A indoor state meet last season. Now, Sturgis wants to prove she can win a state championship.
Akira Rhodes, Mallard Creek, Jr.: The defending 4A state champion in the 100-meter hurdles (outdoors) came up just short in the 55-meter hurdles last indoor season as the state runner-up. This winter, she looks to add to her championship resume.
Quanterra Harrison, Hopewell, Jr.: Titans’ junior quickly becoming one of the state’s best hurdlers, as she looks to carry her momentum from a great outdoor season in the 300-meter hurdles (MECKA 4A conference, 4A West Regional champion, 7th at states) into this winter.
Na’Zyia Evans, Olympic, So.: Emerged as one of top triple jumpers in the state as a freshman last winter, finishing 5th at the 4A indoor (state) meet (36-5). As a sophomore, she should be a state contender.
Sarah Latour, Cuthbertson, Jr.: Cavaliers’ distance standout has proven to be one of the top distance runners in the state (1600, 3200, 5000) and the 3A state cross country runner-up looks to carry her momentum indoors, where she should contend in 1600 and/or 3200 at states along with teammate, Alexia Noch (Charlotte 49ers’ signee).
Jennae Jacob, Marvin Ridge, Sr.: Mavericks’ senior has won multiple state titles indoors with her 4 X 800-meter relay team, now looks to show can do it one her own, finished 7th at indoor states in 1000-meter last winter.
Mariah Atwater, Rocky River, Jr.: Ravens’ junior has improved each season and should be a serious 4A contender in 300/500-meter dash this winter.
Rebecca Fesperman, Sr./Clarke Alexander, Jr. Community School of Davidson: The Spartans have two legitimate state title contenders in Fesperman (500-meter dash) and Alexander (300-meter dash), who both finished 7th at indoor states in their respective events a year ago.
Jessica Brewer, Fort Mill, Sr.: Yellow Jackets’ standout had an Observer-best, vault of 10-8.25 last winter.
Charlotte Observer Girls Indoor Track Teams to Watch
Marvin Ridge: Coach Cameron Starr will have his reigning 3A state, indoor runner-up team ready to make another state title run, led by senior Jennae Jacob and junior, Jorja Medders.
Mallard Creek: The Mavericks have state contenders all over their roster, including Rhodes, Janay Sanders (high jump), Jazz Boyd and Victoria Porter (both 400-meter sprint/800-meter run), which should give them a chance to be a major factor as a team at the 4A state, indoor meet.
Rocky River: The Ravens are loaded with talent from Livingston in the jumps to runners like Atwater, D’Amani Bryant and Aureilya Harris, which should put them into contention for a 4A girls’ state title.
Community School of Davidson: The Spartan girls finished 3rd at the 1A/2A indoor state meet a season ago, and with runners like Alexander, Fesperman and Lissi Gordon back to lead the way, they should be in contention for state bragging rights, again.
Charlotte Observer Boys’ Indoor Track Athletes to Watch
Elijah Gaddy, Forest Hills, Sr.: The reigning 1A/2A indoor, state runner-up in the 55-meter hurdles wants nothing less than a state championship in his final high school season (indoors).
Cedric McGriff, Providence, Sr.: Panthers’ standout also wants to finish his indoor, high school career on the top of the podium in the 55-meter hurdles, after placing third in the state in the same event last winter.
Fabrice Funderburke, Sun Valley, Sr.: Spartans’ standout on the football field and track has been a major part of Sun Valley 4 X 100 and 4 X 200-meter state champion relays. Now, looks to prove he can contend on his own in 55 and 300-meter dashes this indoor season.
Ryan Richardson, Hopewell, Jr.: Titans’ junior believes he can contend in long jump after finishing 4th at the indoor state meet last year, also could be a factor in 300 or 500-meter dash.
Ben Shelley, Marvin Ridge, Sr.: 3A state runner-up in 300-meter hurdles outdoors, will be a major state contender in 55-meter and 300-meter hurdles indoors this winter.
Haywood Ferguson, South Mecklenburg, Jr.: The Sabres’ junior has proven to be a state contender in nearly every distance race in any season, but could contend in several events (1000, 1600, etc.) after a finishing 6th at the state indoor meet in 1,000-meter run last year.
Hayden Blalock, Providence, Sr.: Panthers’ standout overcame quad injury this fall to win SoMeck8 conference title, finish 5th at 4A West Regional, now looks to show he can be one of state’s best distance runners indoors (1600, 3200).
Zach Mercer, Mooresville, Sr.: The recent, 4A West Regional cross country champion looks to carry his momentum into this winter, where he looks to be amongst the state’s best two-milers (3200).
Walker Ikner, Hough, Jr.: The 4A West Regional, high jump champion outdoors, look to show he can be a 4A contender indoors.
Jake Baugher, So., Community School of Davidson: The Spartans’ sophomore is coming off a 6th-place finish at the 1A state cross country meet, and looks to carry that success into the winter, contend in 3200-meter.
Charlotte Observer Boys’ Indoor Track Teams to Watch
Marvin Ridge: The Mavericks have proven to be annual state contenders, both indoors and outdoors (3rd in state, 2016 indoor state championships). This winter, they have another talented group led by Mason Bhatia, Ben Shelley and D’mitri Emmanuel.
Forest Hills: The Yellow Jackets’ blazing speed has put them into the 1A/2A state indoor championship mix, and senior, Elijah Gaddy, has the burners to put this Forest Hills squad near the top again this winter.
Hopewell: The Titans finished 4th at the 4A state meet last year, and have another strong team, led by junior, long jumper/sprinter, Ryan Richardson, to challenge for conference and state bragging rights.
Providence: The Panthers also have a talented roster, led by seniors, McGriff and Blalock, capable of making noise at the season’s biggest meets including states.