Usually, firsts are good to Chenera Lacey.
It proved true in the spring when she became the first female from Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Va. to receive a track and field scholarship by committing to join the Penguins.
It proved true again on Dec. 6 during her first collegiate meet when she took first place in the high jump and tied a Watson and Tressel Training Site record for her mark during the Youngstown State University Icebreaker.
It also proved true throughout her high school career with numerous first-place finishes en route to six school records. To top it all off, she finished first in the high jump on Saturday during the Doug Raymond Invitational at Kent State University.
But in her first taste of winter in northeast Ohio, the results weren’t as kind.
“When I went home [for Christmas] the lowest was around 40 or 30 degrees,” Lacey said. “So to come back here and it be like 8 degrees, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh!’ I’m a south girl from the beach, so I have to get used to this negative-degree weather.”
Other than the weather shock, the transition has been smooth for the freshman — evident from her success at the YSU Icebreaker.
While Lacey’s first-place jump of 1.71 meters tied a WATTS record, it came, more impressively, after she already competed in the hurdles and long jump — all while dealing with admitted first-meet jitters.
“She had a crazy first meet as a freshman, bouncing between three events,” Katrina Brumfield, the Penguins’ jumps coach said. “Most freshmen will crumble when they have to come back and do something like that.”
Then again, she’s not like most freshmen. And she’s certainly not like most girls from Frank W. Cox High School.
Known for its soccer and field hockey, the Virginia Beach school saw its first female earn a track and field scholarship in the 53-year history of the school when Lacey signed with the Penguins.
“That’s really big actually,” said Lacey, a physical therapy major. “Especially because I’m African American – that made it even bigger.”
However, when Brumfield went to recruit Lacey, she wasn’t seeking to break any barriers. The second-year coach was simply trying to fill a need in the program with one of the nation’s top performers.
“She had schools like [the University of] Tennessee, Clemson [University], [Louisiana State University] – big name schools in the country that we were competing against,” Brumfield said. “So for her to trust in YSU was huge for our program. I was happy and shocked at the same time that she decided to commit here.”
Obviously, it wasn’t the brisk winter temperatures that drew Lacey to YSU.
Unimpressed by the Virginia-area universities, Lacey wanted to go away to school. Apart from location, Lacey was accustomed to competing on a concrete surface at Frank W. Cox. The WATTS overwhelmed her.
“As soon as I saw the WATTS, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, an indoor track,’” Lacey said. “I’ve never had an indoor track or this kind of surface. Plus, the people were really nice on my visit and I felt like I fit in more here.”
Initially, she wasn’t a great fit on her high school track and field team, as she focused more on cheerleading. She struggled with the high jump early on, but stayed persistent with encouragement from her cheerleading coach.
“My jumps were always the highest, so my coach was like ‘Hey you should be a jumper,’” Lacey said. “I eventually did really good, especially since we didn’t do any lifting in high school. It was just off raw talent.”
Even so, she broke three school hurdle records and three school jump records. Now, Brumfield is trying to shape that raw talent, starting with Lacey’s approach.
“She represents her area well, has great character, great work ethic and is just an all-around great kid,” Brumfield said. “I know as long as she keeps buying into the program from what she’s doing in the weight room to what she’s doing in practice, she has potential to be in the elite level of Division I.”
Those prospects are on Lacey’s mind as well, as she has some more positive firsts on her radar while she adapts to the cold temperatures.
“My teammates, they push me,” Lacey said. “All the high jumpers are very talented and they’re my biggest competition. So, to know that I have potential to be a conference champion as a freshman is a lot of motivation.”