Sierra Valdivieso had the look from the start when she showed up at a Skyline track practice, but eye tests can be deceiving.
There must be a little more substance – like determination, mental toughness and work ethic.
Pete Jonovich didn’t know about intangibles when he first saw Valdivieso four years ago, but it didn’t stop him foreseeing greatness when it came to throwing the discus.
“You just knew she was going to be good by looking at her,” he recalled. “She was tall, and athletic with a long frame. If she was willing to work hard enough to understand the technique she had a chance to be very good.”
Valdivieso bought into trying to perfect the technique and built a mental toughness that let her flourish in her career, that ended the first weekend in May with her second state title.
The first one, as a junior last year, was built off personal disappointment at previous state meets. She felt she could be among the top throwers in the state, but came up short.
“It was kind of out of anger because I did awful at state; God awful,” she said. “I wanted to come back with a bang and actually do it. In between volleyball and track season I hit the weights hard, twice a day, trying to build muscle and I practiced all time. I got after it and tried to perfect technique and prove I could do it.”
She won the Division II title a throw of 125 feet and 8 inches, but Valdivieso felt like she had to prove herself again this year after Skyline was bumped to Division I.
A new set of competitors cropped up and new challenges for Valdivieso. She was hesitant at first, but then something clicked and the big throws kept coming.
“Her throws kept getting better, and she broke her own school record,” Jonovich said. “Once she broke her own school record, she went a little further every time out. Only one meet she went down all year. She kept getting better, 137, 139, 142, 147 and 150.”
Valdivieso, who threw a career best 150-1 at the Mesa City Meet, came into the Division I state meet ranked No. 2 behind Kayleigh Conlon of Mountain Pointe, the returning shot put and discus champion.
Valdivieso set the tone early, surpassing 140 on her second throw, to put the pressure on Conlon to meet her effort.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘You’re in first, you got this,’ but I knew she could beat that,” she said. “All it takes is one good throw. That’s our quote. It really does take one good throw, and (Conlon) does it all the time so I wasn’t getting ahead of myself. I knew she could beat my mark.”
It never came as Valdivieso’s throw of 140-05 held up to Conlon’s effort of 139-01 to win her second state championship, and it really hit her once she was on the podium being announced as the champion.
“It was a completely different feeling; I was amazed,” she said. “I cried right after. I just started crying. No one had beat (Conlon) in a couple of years. It blew my mind. It was an amazing feeling to stand up (on the podium) as the winner.”
It was the culmination of what Jonovich envisioned when she first stepped into the discus circle as a freshman when she topped out at 106-8.
“Sierra puts in great effort and she is disciplined,” he said. “Her school work is very important to her and she takes the same approach to her training. She does everything right. When she gets in the ring there is nothing holding her back. She is mentally strong and she knows all the work she has done will pay off with a big throw.”
Jonovich, who is weighing a few college options, finished her career with no regrets, a ton of support and the satisfaction of being a two-time state champion.
“Over time I started to believe,” she said. “It was extremely important to have support and know that Jonovich was there. He kept telling me I could do it and it makes a difference. I kept working on my technique, building confidence and knowing I could actually do it became a major factor in becoming a state champion.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.
State track meet
Top 5 finishers
Top five finishers
Desert Ridge boys
Caden Emmons, 800-meter run, third
Sebastian Coleman, shot put, third
Sebastian Coleman, discus, fourth
Jeremy Williams, 400 dash, second
Mountain View boys
Ben Novak, triple jump, fourth
4×800 relay – fifth place
Mountain View girls
Sarah Marske, 300 hurdles, third
Taleni Ta’ase, shot put, fifth
4×800 relay – fourth place
4×100 relay – fifth place
Red Mountain boys
Trake Williams, pole vault, state champion
Johnie Talamantes, 110 hurdles, fourth place
Joseph Romero, 200 dash, fourth place
4×100 relay – third place
James Smith, 300 hurdles, third