Don’t assume that Jaleesa Williams’ outsized personality means she’s boisterous about her successes. She could fill pickup truck with all the awards she’s won during her four-year career as VCU’s most distinguished thrower. Yet, Williams says her Richmond apartment bears little evidence of her All-American career. Instead, she sends all her trophies home with her mother, Julia.
“She’ll appreciate it more than me,” Williams says. “It’s something to be able to give your mother an MVP trophy for all the hard work and hard-headedness she had to withstand. All the long, cold indoor track meets in high school, being underappreciated, it’s like, ‘here you go.’”
This week, Williams is going to try to win one more for her mom, as well as her father, John.
On Thursday, Williams returns to the NCAA Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where she hopes to secure one of eight coveted All-America statuettes in the discus. Last season, the Virginia Beach native placed 12th at the national meet to earn Second Team All-America honors, the first thrower, man or woman, in program history to receive that distinction.
This year, Williams is better than ever. On May 30 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Florida, Williams uncorked a school-record heave of 57.97 meters (190’ 2’’) to place third and punch her return ticket to Eugene. There’s plenty of reason to believe Williams is poised for more history. Her preliminary round mark would have won last year’s national championship and is more than four meters longer than her mark from the 2013 meet (53.12m).
While some might assume Williams would be more at ease the second time around, she’d beg to differ.
“I’m more nervous this time,” she admits. “The first time you go, it’s for fun. The second time, whoa. It’s time to get work done.”
That work, she says, is to duplicate her 57-meter effort from the preliminary round and build from there. If she can maintain that mindset, rather than obsess over personal bests on every throw, she’s confident a top-eight finish is within her reach.
“I want to P.R., but I don’t ever shoot for a P.R.,” she says. “I just try to do what I’m capable of. It’s more, you know what you need to throw to make a certain place. My goal, now that I’ve been to nationals and I’ve seen the top eight get a trophy, well, of course I want to make All-American status. But with that in mind, you’re kind of conscious of what you need to throw to make All-American status.”
While the pursuit of All-America is, in many ways, a singular experience, Williams says it rarely feels that way.
“It would mean a lot for me, but I feel like, it’s mostly for my parents,” she says. “It would mean so much for my mother. You won’t be able to tell her anything. My father, you won’t be able to tell him anything. When I win, I take the trophies home and give them to them. I’ll be proud if it happens, but it was like when I threw 57 [meters]. I was happy, but my teammates were ecstatic. I’d be happy and proud, but it’s what I expect of myself.”
While her nerves may be heightened this time around, Williams says she’ll be more cognizant the role preparation plays at the national meet. She and Rams’ sprinter Kiara Porter, competing in the 400-meter run, flew to Oregon on Sunday. Williams says they’ll work to adjust to the three-hour time difference and will focus on taking advantage of the practice days leading up to competition.
Williams hopes that process will help her capture one more trophy for her mother. It’s a trophy chase that has already taken on special significance, and not just because of its place in program history. Shortly after Williams’ record-breaking throw at the NCAA preliminary meet on May 30, her grandfather on her mother’s side, William Sullivan, passed away. Julia and John Williams, will not attend the national meet as they tend to Sullivan’s arrangements. Jaleesa Williams hopes to send a glimmer of sunshine home from Oregon.
“I’m going to try to give her something to uplift herself,” she says.