By now, Rylee Perkins made the shift fairly easily.
The recent Centennial graduate is slightly more than a month from starting her education and track career at the University of Arizona. While the 2019 Division II state champion in the long and triple jump laments the loss of the opportunity to repeat, she said she realizes how fortunate she is.
Her track and field career is far from over. And Perkins’ ability is promising enough to earn a rare track scholarship.
“It sucks that our season was cut so short,” Perkins said. “But the whole time my mindset has been that I’m grateful that at least I had the opportunity to go to college. A lot of athletes don’t.”
Centennial track and field coach Steve Ybarra missed out more than most in this scenario. The former Coyotes head coach returned to the program and only had the opportunity to coach Perkins in preseason and one dual meet.
Ybarra did not need to work with her much, however, to realize Perkins’ gifts as a jumper and that she has the work ethic to make the most of those gifts. As a former Wildcats track athlete before switching his college career to soccer, he believes Tucson is an ideal place for her to reach her ceiling.
“If you think about it, in college track, there are 20 events and 16 scholarships — I think. If you go to a dual meet at a Pac-12 school, there’s a good chance you will see someone in the top 10 of the world in an event,” Ybarra said. “She’s going into a good program and likes the coach and the family atmosphere with the jumpers.”
Perkins said she’s looking forward to traveling with the team around the country, and the perks of being in a major Division I program — like regular massages and team-wide ice baths.
Unlike some of her peers in the class of 2020, Perkins had the opportunity to visit her future campus. She went to Tucson in the fall and had already bonded with jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger when she was having an off day at a national outdoor meet last summer.
“When I first met him I liked that he was down to Earth and really calming. He’s very encouraging and I respond to that well with coaches,” Perkins said.
Since Centennial’s season ended in late March, Perkins has kept busy with regular workouts with club coach Josh Lucas. Flight Club athletes will go back to the track next week, after months of ladder drills and specialized drills for the long and triple jump.
Her club season was the highlight of 2020. Perkins long jumped a personal best 19 feet 1½ inches Feb. 8 at the great Southwest Classic Indoor Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M. She followed with a jump of 19 feet ¼ inches Feb. 16 at the Arizona Indoor Classic in Flagstaff.
“I was so excited. This is it. I finally broke 19 feet. I had gotten so much stronger,” Perkins said.
After missing the opening Mountain Ridge Invitational because of a dance trip, Perkins competed in the Coyotes first meet with Desert Edge and Liberty. She started off the season with a personal best of 39 feet 2½ feet in the triple jump.
“She’s the type of kid where you say to yourself, ‘Thank goodness I get to work with her a year,’” Ybarra said. “I think she was going to flirt with 40 feet in the triple jump this season.”
Former Centennial coach Simone Terry and her staff encouraged Perkins to try the triple jump before her junior season and the former gymnast took to it quickly.
The team was getting ready for the Rattler Booster Invitational on March 14, but a combination of rain late that week and rising concerns with the spread of coronavirus led to the event’s cancellation.
That turned out to be it. All spring sports seasons ended March 30.
While Perkins was focused on repeating her double crown, she said she feels blessed to have won two titles in the first place. And Centennial track provided fond memories beyond the pit.
“I thought my high school career went pretty good,” Perkins said. “Some of my favorite memories were with the 4x100-relay team my freshman year. All of us girls were really close. We would hang out after meets.”
Academic opportunities also guided Perkins’ college choice. Arizona’s reputation for its medical school was a draw.
She said she originally planned to study nursing, which requires two additional years of training. Now, Perkins plans to major in public health.
“I’ve always wanted to work with kids as a pediatrician. But now I want to be a nurse practitioner. I can always go back and study to be a pediatrician later,” Perkins said.