Piper Jons didn’t harbor any hopes of winning races or titles.
No, when she joined Urbana’s indoor track and field team as a sophomore, she simply viewed the sport as an ideal way to stay in shape and improve her speed for the upcoming club soccer season in the spring.
Turns out, Jons loved track and field so much, she eventually made a choice she never would’ve even considered when she regarded the sport as just a training tool.
“In the spring, I always had to decide between my soccer games and my track tournaments. And it got to be so much for me to handle,” she said. “That’s why I decided to quit my club soccer team, so that way, I could only focus on track.”
That focus paid off for Jons. Now a senior, she’s a standout sprinter for Urbana’s powerhouse team, which heads into Saturday’s Frederick County Public Schools meet looking to win its sixth straight team county crown, and she’s already committed to run track and field at Elon University.
When Jons arrived at Urbana, soccer was her main sport. She’d been playing it for years with her fraternal twin sister, Grayson Jons, the Hawks goalie who earned Frederick News-Post Defensive Player of the Year honors this fall.
Piper has continued to play soccer for the Hawks as a wing, and her playing time increased after a teammate got injured during her senior season. But track clearly overtook soccer as her main sport.
“I never thought track would be in my life,” she said. “I never thought that I was super fast.”
Hawks coach C.J. Ecalono saw potential when Jons came out for the team.
“She had raw speed,” he said. “It needed to be worked with.”
Ecalono did that very thing and found Jons to be extremely coachable. Older teammates, who had thrived in a program that churned out standouts, also helped her develop.
“Once I figured out that I actually was going to be something on the team, I kind of just followed around the upperclassmen, the girls who knew what they were doing,” she said. “I followed them around, saw what they would do.”
One of her role models was Lily Morrell, who graduated last season after a stellar senior season in which she won county and Central Maryland Conference titles in 300 hurdles.
By last spring, Jons was also making vital contributions for an Urbana team that captured the Class 4A state team title. She ran a leg on the Hawks’ winning 4x400 relay at the state meet and captured 4A North regional titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
Last winter, Ecalono urged Jons to focus on long sprinting events, and she began doing workouts in the 400 and 800.
Initial attempts weren’t encouraging. In workouts, Jons kept falling behind. Nonetheless, she said Ecalono saw potential, kept working with her and told her to trust him that she could succeed.
“Every time I would run the 400, my time got a tiny bit faster,” Jons said. “So I started to believe in myself and understand that he was right.”
While the 400 isn’t her favorite event, she realizes her ability to compete in it has broadened her repertoire. This winter, she just started running in the 500-meter run, where teammate Emily McDonnell pushed her. Jons’ time of 1 minute, 20.91 seconds is second in Frederick County, sandwiched between teammate Ella Auderset’s 1:17.7 and McDonnell’s 1:21.38.
Jons also runs on a 4x400 relay team, along with Auderset, Karly McDonnell and Lydia Robling, that qualified for a national meet in New York with a time of 4:03.29.
At the county meet, she hopes to get an explosive start in the 55, a strong start and finish in the 300 and do her part in the 4x200 relay, where crisp baton handoffs are essential.
“We try to get top three in as many events as possible, so [Ecalono is] trying to figure out where to put each girl,” she said. “Even if it’s not exactly what they want to do, he’s trying to see what we can do as a whole and try to get the most points in as many places as possible.”