WHEELERSBURG — Finally, in her senior season, Justus was indeed served.
That’s because recent Wheelersburg High School graduate Justus Steward not only enjoyed a solid and successful senior track and field campaign, but she qualified for the Division II state meet —after narrowly missing qualifying for a pair of Division III regional meets in her first two years.
Now, despite the late July announcement, Steward will throw the discus, shot put and even the hammer for the University of Rio Grande — as on Tuesday she officially announced her intentions to compete for the RedStorm.
Steward, in a signing ceremony at Wheelersburg High School, was flanked by her parents Nakia and Kristy Steward; longtime University of Rio Grande track and field head coach Bob Willey; Wheelersburg High School girls track and field head coach Tom Kaskey; and several family members and friends.
Steward joins another Lady Pirate state meet qualifier as a member of the RedStorm —that being hurdling and long-jumping specialist Lauren Jolly, who made her college commitment official over the winter.
Jolly, along with Wheelersburg’s high jumping all-Ohioan Maddie Gill, joined Steward for her ceremony.
They will begin their journey at Rio Grande together in August.
“I love it. Lauren and I have cheered each other on every single meet since our seventh-grade year. We’ve been like big sisters to each other,” said Steward. “I’m really excited that we get to continue our track and field careers together.”
Steward said Rio Grande and Willey’s program was the only one on her radar.
“The reason I picked it (Rio Grande) was because right when I came in, they made me feel already part of the family. That’s before I even committed, and that’s a really big thing. I’m going away and leaving family and family is a really big part of who I am,” she said. “I wasn’t really interested in anybody else. Rio was my first pick.”
Steward excelled in the discus throw for the Lady Pirates and also threw the shot put, as during her three seasons of the Southern Ohio Conference meet she placed in the top five in both events —including capturing the conference championship in the discus this past season, with a winning throw of 113 feet and one inch.
That was just the launch point of her run, or rather throws, to the coveted state meet —as the Lady Pirates competed in track and field as a Division II program this past spring, unlike her freshman and sophomore years when they were Division III.
Of course, and unfortunately, the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the 2020 spring sports seasons because of the coronavirus threat.
Before this season, Steward twice finished fifth in the discus throw as part of the Division III Southeast District meet —with almost identical best throws of 105 feet and 11 inches as a freshman (2018) and 105 feet and nine inches as a sophomore (2019).
However, only the top four placers in each event at the district meet move on to the regional meet —and subsequently the top four from the regional meet advance to the state.
This time, in her last go-round at Wheelersburg, she did just that in the disc.
In fact, she won the Southeast District championship with a best toss of one inch shy of an even 115 feet (114 feet and 11 inches) —before, on an unseasonably cold and downright dreary day in the Region 7 meet, she fired a personal-best 115-feet and nine-inch throw to eventually punch her state tournament ticket.
She finished fourth in the region by competition’s end, and nailed her state-qualifying throw on her very first of six total attempts.
For the field-event finals of any OHSAA-sanctioned tournament, there are three preliminary tries —and three more for the nine finalists.
Steward said the regional competition was “crazy” and “so nerve-wracking”, but that she “knew I had it in me.”
“Oh my God. It was freezing that day and there was a lot of pressure,” she said. “I gave everything I had and left it all out there.”
That she did, as she placed 13th out of 18 individuals in the Division II state meet’s discus throw —with a best toss of 110 feet and nine inches.
She threw 105 feet and five inches on her first throw, and fouled on her final attempt.
Her shot put PR is 35 feet, as she also explained her willingness to try and throw the hammer.
“They want me to try the hammer throw. It’s brand new to me and I’ve never thrown it. I’ve held one, but that’s it. I’ve decided to try something new,” she said.
Then again, before Junior High, throwing the disc and shot was all new as well.
“I used to dance before I got into throwing. You have to have a lot of balance to throw, and I was really strong, so I thought I might as well try it my seventh-grade year,” said Steward. “I quit dance, got into that, my coaches thought I was really good, so I continued throwing and I love it.”
And, she loved her senior season with Wheelersburg —and just getting the opportunity to compete after her junior year was taken away.
Indeed, Justus was served for Steward in 2021.
“It was definitely difficult not to have a season. I could have been a lot better now, but I am just glad that I got my senior year in, because a lot of people didn’t (in 2020). I was very thankful for that, and I just gave it my all at practice every day, at practice before and practice after. It was long hours, but Lauren (Jolly) and I were just really excited to get our senior year, and to make the state just meant that much more,” she said. “Now I’m just excited to start something else new.”
Steward said she plans to become an anesthesiologist, meaning the Nursing and Pre Med programs offered at Rio Grande are essential to her career.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved