She got the nickname "Lightning" when she played baseball as a youngster. Now, Jada Ellis is bringing the thunder to the track as a star sprinter at Manchester Township.
The Maryland-bound Ellis, who has smashed six school records in her remarkable career, and captured several county and conference titles, and won multiple sectional and state group championships during her remarkable career, added to her impressive resume over the last two weeks with a dazzling display of speed to spark her team to historic victories at the Ocean County and Shore Conference Championships.
At the county meet last week, Ellis won the 100m dash in 12.29, the 200 in 25.35, anchored the winning 4x100, and leadoff the third-place 4x400 to lead Manchester to its first ever outdoor county championship.
Then yesterday, Ellis added to her big collection of gold medals by winning the 100 in a NJ#7 12.22, and the 200 in 25.20, also No. 7 in the state season, to spark Manchester to its first ever Shore Conference girls title.
NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Ellis for a Q and A where she revealed how she got into track and field, why she chose to commit to Maryland, how she's inspired by her very fast and famous cousins, Noah and Josephus Lyles, and a whole lot more.
So sit back and enjoy this installment of Sunday Spotlight as as we shine the spotlight on Manchester Township star Jada Ellis.
Jada Ellis Interview
NJM: Can you describe just how awesome it feels to help your team make history and win the first county and conference titles for the girls in school history, and what it means to you to help make history?
It truly is amazing to see how all the hard work we put in this track season really paid off. None of us really knew we made history at first, our coach Christopher Rash had to look it up, so to have this first ever title means that even though I was able to score the most points for our team, it took each individual athlete to make this moment possible. To me, being a part of this huge achievement is something I am so grateful for and I'm glad I was able to contribute to this victory but it really was a team effort to make this happen.
There was a lot of pressure going into the 4x400 with the county team title at stake. What was the feeling like for you and the other three girls as you prepared to run? Was it nerve-wracking or were guys calm and confident you could do enough to grab the points you needed to secure the championship?
We honestly had no idea we had the chance to win a championship title. Our focus was really on running this race with a purpose and to finish strong. We knew what we were going up against but each one of us has a fighting spirit that won't allow our nerves to stop us from performing our best. Our goal was to give it all we got and show everyone what we were made of despite the pressure that was on us to run a good time.
You had a spectacular county meet with your victories in the 100 dash and the 200, and your anchor carry in the 4x100 and your leadoff leg in the 4x400. How excited are you by what you accomplished and how would you describe your all-round performance?
I was very happy to help our 4x100 team get the victory in the last few meters of the race. I knew I needed to catch the Barnegat girl and seeing that the race was still close enough for us to win, my focus was to get to the finish line first. As far as the 100m and 200m goes, it's championship season so I'm out there to chase PR's. Overall, I'm proud to win another 100 and 200 meter champion title and 3rd place finish in the 4x400m relay but I was really hoping my times would be faster. This shows that I still have more to improve on but it's only the beginning of the season, I still have more time until I peak.
How great is it to be competing again outdoors in the county meet after not having that opportunity last year because of the pandemic?
It's very exciting to be back on the track again after an entire year of not having any Spring competitions. The pandemic really affected me at first because I knew I would make fast marks in the 100m and 200m dash for my Junior season but to have that opportunity taken away felt like a setback to me at first. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and during that season of waiting to compete again, God showed me just how important it was to trust the process.
Speaking of the pandemic, how difficult was it to miss the outdoor season last year, Jada? And what types of training/workouts did you do to stay fit and in top form?
In the beginning of the pandemic it was very difficult for me to miss the entire spring track season. I would get updates that big meets I hoped to compete in were being canceled and there was no chance of running during the 2020 outdoor season period. However, I am not the one to sit around and allow a situation like this to slow me down. I continued to train at All Star Sports academy until they were forced to shut down. At that point, I took a break from training and focused on what goals I needed to accomplish for my senior year. I didn't get back into training until November 2020 but my Coaches Wesley Moore, Brian Blue, and Emanuel Meyers helped keep me in shape so I could get back to performing at my top level before the opportunity came for me to compete again. I've also been training with our boys Manchester team so I can work even harder in practice to get my times down to where they need to be.
In what ways did missing the season last year fuel your fire to come back and try to have your best season ever this year. I imagine it really motivated you to have a big senior season?
Missing out on the 2020 spring season definitely fueled the fire I needed to come back and perform my best season ever because I knew I would've ran fast times my junior year, I was conditioned and trained for those races. A lot of the training and competition I had to sign up for out of state was all done by myself. I didn't have a team, and I couldn't have a coach on the track with me. I was able to improvise though, my father Jason Ellis and my youngest brother Jared Ellis, who is a freshman at Manchester and ran huge PR's for his first season, also helped in the training process, along with my coaches who I named before, by sending me workouts to do. It was hard to go through this season and there were many ups and downs but I knew my senior season was going to be my comeback season so it was necessary to go through that hardship in order to start seeing victories on the track.
You have been one of the best sprinters in the state over the last few years with fast PR's of 12.00 and 25.03, and a third-place finish in the 55 at the indoor Meet of Champions as a junior. What are your biggest personal goals as far as times for this season? I imagine getting under 12.00 and under 25.00 are huge goals?
Yes, my goals for this outdoor season is to run 11.8 or better in the 100m dash, and 24.6 or better in the 200 meter dash. I recently committed to the University of Maryland and my new coach, Andrew Valmon, who is a gold medal Olympian (the 4x400 in both 1988 and '92), and a Manchester alumni, told me these are the times he would like for me to run ,so I will give everything I got to go after it. I currently hold six school records for Manchester, so I also plan to break my records in the 100m and 200 meter dashes.
You've won county, conference, sectional and state Group titles, so I'm wondering what it would mean to you to capture your first Meet of Champions title this season, something every NJ track and field athlete dreams of?
It is very exciting to have numerous state champion titles but the Meet of Champions title will be the hardest to get. There is a sprinter from Egg Harbor Township (Lauren Princz) that I've competed against before and she brought great competition to both Championship meets. It would be an amazing opportunity to win a Meet of Champions title but I know for sure it will not be easy. I've kept up with her in both races, so I would love another opportunity to compete against her. It's still too early to tell but we will see what happens at that meet.
What do you consider your greatest strength as a sprinter?
My greatest strength as a sprinter is my competitive drive. Once I have a goal in mind I focus on achieving it and working as hard as I can to get it done. I sometimes surprise myself with some of my performances but if I know I can run faster and in some cases, need to pass a girl, I will. Everyone wants to cross the finish line first but it's the one who fights for it the most that wins the race because whether you're prepared for a race or not, "anything can happen so you always have to be ready." That's what my mother, Deborah Ellis, would always tell me.
Can you tell me how, when and why you first got involved in track and field? Did you love it right away?
My first sport ever was gymnastics, but I only did that for a few years until I took my youngest brother's position in baseball. Yes, I played baseball with the boys for three years, but my coaches, Paul Gifford and Alvin Rameriez, noticed I had some speed in me when I ran to the bases. I'll be honest, I didn't always have the best hand-eye coordination when I first started sports, but I developed the nickname 'Lightning" because I would get to the bases so quickly no one could get me out. After baseball, I tried out for cross-country for my middle school team for 3 years and that had to be when I first discovered I was good at running. I signed up for the track team for 3 years in middle school as well but the coach didn't see I was more of a sprinter than a distance runner until my 7th or 8th grade year. Once I was finally able to prove to the coach and even myself I was a sprinter, that's when my love for track set in. I would usually be one of if not the fastest girl out there and I remember so many people coming up to me complimenting my races and being shocked how someone so small could be so fast.
When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a great sprinter?
I realized I could be a great sprinter at Penn Relays in 2018 in the 4x400m relay. Our team was probably 7th or 8th place and there was a good 60m+ gap between me and first place. I was third leg and I saw the position our team was in so I knew I needed to make a move to get us to the top. On the back stretch I started to pass girls one by one until I hit the 200m mark and kicked it. I was going after first place and sure enough, I passed her with 50m left in the race and left about a 20m gap between our anchor leg and the second place team. The place was going crazy as the announcer mentioned how I moved from the back all the way to the front so quickly and along with many people, I was surprised I finished that race in first place with a 57 second split. My parents, coaches, teammates, and family all knew I had so much potential and from that point it was just a matter of seeing how much I could do.
What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?
I love the competition in track and field and also team bonding. Big races when I know it's anyone's game and even races where there is less competition always excites me because I know this is my chance to put myself out there and perform well. Team bonding between our Manchester girls and even girls from other teams also motivates me in track because I know that I am a leader and there are people who look up to me so I try to be the best example to them. When I do leave for college I don't want people to just remember what I was able to do on the track. I want them to also remember who I was as a person, how I carried myself, and how I treated other people. To me, it's important to show good sportsmanship to everybody and I want everyone to know that we should support each other but once it's time for competition on the track, you have to handle your business.
Who is your favorite college/pro athlete to watch and why? And what have you learned from watching them?
I love to watch Allyson Felix run, but I also love watching my cousins, Noah and Josephus Lyles compete as well. They're all great athletes and their performances always seem to amaze me. From watching them, I learned to always remain focused on your race and to also have a little fun with it.
How about the future, Jada? What was it about Maryland that made you feel that was the best fit for you?
What interested me the most about Maryland was the coach, Andrew Valmon. He really wanted me to be a part of the team and he and his staff went out of their way to make admission possible for me. I feel so honored to have the opportunity to be trained by former Olympic champion Andrew Valmon and I'm happy they gave me the opportunity to attend a great school with a great track program. I researched their roster and found fast times from their girls team so I trust that his training will get me to the level that I would like to perform at. They're also in the big 10 conference which will have a lot of great competition for me and I'm very excited to see who I will be running up against in those championship meets.
What are planning to major in, and what do you picture yourself doing in 5-10 years from now? What type of career would you like to pursue?
I plan to major in Engineering at the University of Maryland and I hear they have the best Engineering program so I'm very excited to be in that field. In 5-10 years from now I'm not sure what I will be doing but I know I will be pursuing whatever career God has for me. I'm hoping to continue engineering after college but I haven't decided on which type would be best for me. It all depends on what happens in college.
What type of things do you like to do when you're away from the track and not doing schoolwork? Have any hobbies or are you involved in any other sports or clubs/activities at school?
Away from track and schoolwork I love to bake with my two grandmother's, read through my bible and listen to gospel music, go on bike rides, go to the beach, visit amusement parks, spend time with friends and family, go on vacation, and do puzzles. I'm not involved in any activities in my school this year other than track because of Covid, but I do participate in my youth group at the First Assembly of God church on Bay Avenue.