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Roosevelt High School track star went from zero to 'unprecedented' within a year

Lily Jones is about a tenth of a second from history — a remarkable feat considering she wasn’t even on the radar for colleges 12 months ago.

PORTLAND, Ore. — One year ago, no one was talking about Lily Jones — but hard work and talent changed all of that. Now, she’s running towards history on the track. It just took her a minute to discover how talented she was.

“My mom drug me out here and was like, 'Lily just try it,'” said the Roosevelt High School senior. “I was like, 'I don't want to do track, I’m a softball athlete.' I ended up trying it and being good at it. It's kind of funny how things work sometimes.”

Jones is one of the fastest girls in Oregon and has a shot at not just winning the 6A state title in the 100-meter dash, but could also break the Oregon record of 11.30 that was set in 1968 by Margaret Johnson Bailes.

“The girl who has the state record did it in the Olympics, she did it in the Olympics as a 17-year-old in 1968,” said Roosevelt assistant track coach Ben Salisbury. “This isn't low hanging fruit, this is a monster record. People thought this record would never be broken.”

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Jones is about a tenth of a second from history, a remarkable feat considering she wasn’t even on the radar for colleges 12 months ago.

“A year ago it was crickets when it came to recruiting,” said Jones.

Her sprint coach felt the same way.

“I didn't hear back from most schools,” said Salisbury. “Even mid-major schools weren't calling me back."

Jones is a multi-sport athlete at Roosevelt High School, but committed to track, devoting more time to running. She put in the work and drastically improved her times.

“The jump that she's made, especially in the last 12 months, is pretty unprecedented,” said Salisbury. “There's no one in the country that has dropped as much time as she has, and it's not close.”

It was hard for some college coaches to believe.

“I even had a PAC-12 coach, he wanted me to get a specific split time. He was like, 'coach you must have measured this wrong,'” Salisbury recalled. “He was like, 'there's no way that's right, she'd be the second fastest on my team.' I'm like, 'that's what I'm trying to tell you.'”

So Jones hit the road to gain more exposure. Racing out of state against some of the best in the country. The rest is history. The college offers came flooding in.

“It's really a story of hard work meets talent,” said Salisbury.

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Jones chose her dream school, the University of Oregon, signing a letter of intent to run for the Ducks.

“When I went to Oregon, I felt like I was at home and being close to home was important to me too,” said Jones. “I've always said, ever since I started track, I want to be a Duck. It just means everything. I manifested this dream and worked hard at it and I'm able to achieve that and be part of an amazing program.”

“I don't know if we've had a girl get a scholarship in any sport in the last 20 years — I mean, truthfully, maybe even longer than that,” said Salisbury.

The Ducks aren’t just getting an elite runner. Jones is wrapping up her senior year at Roosevelt as valedictorian.

“I've kind of always been on that track, ever since freshman year and I never got a B in middle school either,” said Jones. “Whenever I set my mind to something, I achieve it. I take that same mentality and have that same mentality in sports and in school.”

The 6A OSAA state track and field championships begin May 20 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.