Kirkendall to throw for Rio

WHEELERSBURG — For Nalah Kirkendall, it’s better late than never —and now she makes a band of Wheelersburg Lady Pirates better by the half-dozen.

That’s because Kirkendall, a 2022 Wheelersburg High School graduate and perhaps a late bloomer for throwing for track and field, officially announced on Tuesday her commitment to the University of Rio Grande —where she plans to throw the shot put and discus, combined with the collegiate hammer and javelin.

Kirkendall, flanked at her signing ceremony at Wheelersburg High School by her parents Jonathan and Alicia Kirkendall along with her three siblings and Wheelersburg High School girls track and field head coach Ryan Willis, came to a decision on Rio Grande over the summer —where she will throw for longtime URG head coach Bob Willey.

Kirkendall is also now the sixth member of the Lady Pirates’ program within the past two years to continue on for the Redstorm —as she joins Natalie Brammer and fellow thrower Karley Kouns from her graduating class alone.

Justus Steward and Lauren Jolly just completed their freshmen Redstorm seasons, as Alyssa Dingus is a member of the Lady Pirate class of two years ago.

This past mid-May, Kirkendall captured the Southern Ohio Conference championship in the girls discus throw —with a personal-best toss of 109 feet and 10 inches, marking five consecutive SOC discus titles for the Lady Pirates.

Steward won it in 2021, following a three-peat from University of Findlay standout thrower Paige Emnett (from 2017 thru 2019).

Kirkendall decided late, and ultimately landed a spot at Rio Grande, for two-fold reasons —because of Marshall University’s lack of interest and the Pirate community at-large’s desire for her to join up with her Burg sisterhood.

“I really wanted to go to Marshall, but they didn’t show any interest in me. Then the big community that wanted me to go to Rio Grande and Rio Grande wanting me, that’s what made me decide. I know so many people there and so many of the girls were nice to be able to help me out,” revealed Kirkendall. “I feels so awesome that I have so many people helping me. I’ve had some of those girls reach out on their own and talk to Rio Grande’s coaches about me. It’s really good sportsmanship.”

The five feet and 10 inches tall Kirkendall began her track and field career in only eighth grade, and even unfortunately missed her sophomore season — since the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled that campaign (2020) due to the coronavirus threat.

It was this past May in which she made her largest impact of her five Lady Pirate springs —first winning the SOC girls discus championship, before placing third in the event at the Southeast District Division II meet and automatically qualifying for the Region 7 tournament.

She threw two feet shy of an even 107-feet (106-10) in the district competition, and her best of six regional heaves was three feet (106-7) fewer than that.

She finished eighth in the regional, giving the Lady Pirates one team point there.

Kirkendall continues, she said, to throw the disc and shot at Rio Grande —and “hopefully, I learn to throw the hammer and javelin too”.

If her time at Wheelersburg was any indication of her improvement, then there is the likelihood she competes in all four events before all is said and done.

Kirkendall said she was disappointed that her sophomore season was canceled, but she bounced back these final two years —as her interest in throwing absolutely increased.

“I didn’t get serious about it until I looked up to Paige (Emnett) and Justus (Steward) and Karley (Kouns), and I realized I really wanted to be like them. My senior year, I started getting serious knowing I wanted to go to college for it (discus). They really helped me get better,” said Kirkendall, with a smile.

Kirkendall competed in soccer while at Wheelersburg as well, while she said she was repeatedly asked if she played basketball.

“My height definitely helps,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I play basketball, but I tell them I just throw.”

At Rio Grande, Kirkendall claimed, she plans to undertake weightlifting “to definitely improve (throws)”.

“I want to hit 115 (feet) on disc, and hopefully, next season or the seasons to come, get a full (athletic scholarship) ride there,” she said. “I am excited for the season to start already.”

Indeed, Kirkendall is early on the enthusiasm aspect of competing in college — despite officially inking in the opening week of August.

She said she plans to major in Business.

“It wasn’t until the end of June that I finally decided to go to Rio, because I was so dead-set on Marshall. But when I went on my visit (to Rio Grande) in late June, I really fell in love with the campus and the people there,” said Kirkendall. “Thankfully, I got to meet people already from the team.”