"I have to come into my race very positive. I told myself that I could do this! This is what I focused on mainly last year. My mentality made all the difference and that's what I was focusing on." -- Jayla Hollis
What comes to mind when you think of DeSoto?
If you're from Texas, you might think ...track powerhouse. But if you're from anywhere else -- and at least familiar with the track and field community -- you probably know the Eagles are known for high caliber sprinters and sprint relays which are ranked among the country's best.
That remains true is 2020.
And Jayla Hollis might be the star of the bunch this outdoor season. This past indoor season, the DeSoto senior and University of Arkansas recruit ran a US No. 2 time of 23.66 seconds in the 200m and 8.51 in the 60mH, a career best.
But Texas isn't exactly an indoor state, so that wasn't the main mission.
Hollis has very specific goals for the spring.
She's training to run 13 seconds in the 100m hurdles and 23.0 in the 200m. If she would reach or eclipse either, Hollis would go down among the best athletes in high school history.
Guess what? Outdoor is already here.
* Hollis won a UIL Class 6A Championship in the 100mH in 2019
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Mental And Physical Growth
Every athlete has a start to their story, and Hollis' began when she was just 13 years old.
Her mother, Dottie, remembers watching Jayla chase her older twin brothers around the yard. And that's when she knew, she said, that her daughter was going to be someone special to watch on the track.
The common denominator, Dottie said, has always been Jayla's mentality.
Hollis learned quickly that if she wanted to take the next steps to being the best version of herself, she must begin to focus.
"I have to come into my race very positive," Hollis said. "I told myself that I could do this! This is what I focused on mainly last year. My mentality made all the difference and that's what I was focusing on."
And in 2019, it worked. Hollis' breakout season came in her junior season, as she won her first Class 6A UIL Championship in the 100mH with a winning time of 13.40, which was one hundredths of a second off her season best. A few weeks later, it would be three hundredths of second off her eventual best of 13.37, which she ran at New Balance Nationals Outdoor to place second overall. That 13.37 would finish the year US No. 4 overall, while her time of 23.36 in the 200m would finish US No. 8.
Along with being focused, she wanted to concentrate on minor details to give her the slight edge. Hollis remembers during her sophomore year that she focused on her power and form coming out of the starting blocks.
But in her junior year, she fixated on running down the track, the turn in the 200m, and the sixth hurdle in the 100mH. She began training with the 400m runners to improve her endurance.
Hollis said she started to see that running her events also improved her strength.
"When I run the 60m, it helps a lot with my block starts," Hollis said. "In the 200m, you need to be strong, it's not just all speed. [It] gives me more endurance, just like when I'm running on the 4x400m every now and then. This helps me get stronger."
Hollis has a tiny quirk at meets. She might be one of the few athletes who doesn't warm up to music.
"I do not like listening to music before my track meets," she said. "I'm more focused when I'm not listening to music. I want to hear what's going on around me."
Hollis has been shaped by a variety of athletes over her career.
From a mixture of world class athletes and even someone she had the privilege to train and compete against, there are three athletes she admires: Brianna Rollins-McNeal, the Olympic gold medalist in the 100mH, and Keni Harrison, the 100mh world record holder.
"I like the way that they hurdle," Hollis said. "They're both very powerful. That was one of the things I had to focus on over the years."
* JaEra Griffin, Hollis, Taylor Armstrong and Rosaline Effiong set a national outdoor record in the 4x100 last season at the UIL Class 6A Championships
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Hollis also looked to her teammates from DeSoto.
"I have always looked up to my older teammates, especially [recent graduate] Rosalie Effiong because of how confident she was," Hollis said.
Effiong was the 2019 Texas UIL Class 6A runner-up in the 200m and anchored DeSoto in both the national record-setting 4x100 team and its winning 4x400 squad -- teams Hollis was also on.
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Looking Into The Future
In 2020, Hollis isn't just trying to set new PRs.
She wants to be remembered as a team player who did everything she could to make a difference. This outdoor season, she has tunnel vision for bettering herself and making an impact within her DeSoto community.
"I want to be more focused on myself and on my events," Hollis said. "I just want to run faster than what I did last year."
Hollis has accomplishments she wants to scratch off her bucket list this year, including hitting some personal bests and being ready to compete at the University of Arkansas in 2021.