Joy Ripslinger Reflects On Her Four State Titles In Iowa

Joy Ripslinger returned to Davenport Assumption (IA) High on Monday with a heroes welcome.

That's what happens when you make state history.

"All my classmates were following our team through the weekend," she said. "They were congratulatory. I feel a lot of support."

The reason was obvious.

The University of Arkansas track and field signee did something no other girls athlete had ever done at the Iowa High School Track and Field Championships.

She won four individual titles on the Drake University track, executing wins in the 400m (56.29), 800m (2:09.39), 1500m (4:39.00) and 3000 (9:55.37). The latter two were meet records.

Her Knights girls program also won its fifth straight state title.

"She's a special kid, "said Tim O'Neill, who's led Assumption for the last 17 years as its head coach. "Ever since her sophomore year, we've tried to develop a range with her and this is the payoff after all those years of work."

Ripslinger, who owns a PR and state meet record of 2:07.51 in the 800m and a PR of 4:31.91 in the 1500m, will leave her time at Assumption as one of its most accomplished athletes ever. She owns six team titles, including one each in soccer and cross country and four in track, and recorded nine individual championships, including two relays.

She also earned an All-American nod in the 800m after her performance at New Balance Nationals Indoor in March -- she also won a title in the SMR -- and owns seven Drake Relays titles. 

"She's always made a conscious effort to be versatile," O'Neill said. "She's a competitor."

And yet, she's not done yet. The senior still believes there are PRs left to accomplish. She'll move on to New Balance Nationals Outdoor in June, then will travel to Sacramento for the USATF Junior National Track and Field Championships.

Ripslinger's mission has always been the same with each new season.

"The goal is always to get the team ready for championship racing," Ripslinger said. "Throughout the season, I worked on each of my races a little bit in order to be in the best possible spot to compete in all of them."

But that historic honor didn't quite come until later. It wasn't until the middle of the season when O'Neill and Ripslinger actually put the plan into motion.

A year ago, the mid-distance talent earned state titles in the 800m, 1500m and SMR. But as O'Neill saw the landscape in Class 3A, he made a pitch to his senior mid-distance talent.

"About two months ago I approached her and said, 'Hey, what do you think about doing all four?' O'Neill remembered. "She said, 'I don't know.' And I replied, 'I think you have a chance to do something that's never been done before.' And that's all it took."

Ripslinger didn't change her training or mentality much over that time.

But O'Neill did start to see the senior prepare herself for the responsibility of racing four events in May.

During the team's Kenyan runs, which O'Neill explained as sets of cutbacks over various distances, Ripslinger would always execute to near precision.

"It's hard for a lot of our athletes to go out slow and get faster," he said, "but she found a way to hammer those sets outs every time. We'd go to a nearby park where we had a 1400m trail and we'd do 3-4 laps. Her speed and aerobic threshold were always very high."

An added bonus this season? A couple times a week, Eric Sowinski, who won a USA indoor national championship in the 800m in 2013-2014, would help the team with workouts.

"His coach was my teammate in college," O'Neill said. "And Eric (former University of Iowa standout) lives in Iowa City. He's a good resource to have. I've always asked myself 'How do we take a talented kid like Joy and make her better?'"

Here's the fortunate part: Ripslinger caught a break during the state series.

Since the meet was broken up into three days, she was afforded rest between her first two events and the last two.

On Thursday she ran the 3000m then followed a few hours later with the 400. 
It was an interesting dichotomy not only because the races were drastically different, but because they were arguably the toughest two runs for Ripslinger.

It was just her fourth time running the 3000m all season.

"It was a really odd combination to go from the 3000m to the 400m," she said "They're polar opposites. But I had to summon my inner speed."

Ripslinger ultimately did win both events.

On Saturday, she went from the 1500m to the 800m.

On the final turn to the finish, she remembers hearing announcer and the crowd. "It was an awesome feeling," she said.

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