Prior to joining Madison High School’s track program as a freshman in 2016, Rayven Nealey had no prior experience in track.
Giving track a try at the suggestion of a classmate’s mom, Nealey competed in five individual events and one relay by the end of the season. She ended up competing in long jump, triple jump and the 100 meters for the 5A District 5-6 championships, reaching the 5A state meet in long jump and triple jump. She secured a silver medal in triple jump finals with 36 feet, 4.25 inches, a mark that put her at No. 8 in Idaho’s all-classification athletic.net rankings that season and No. 2 among 5A girls.
Prior to state, Nealey had competed in triple jump four times.
“I don’t even think we had her on a full approach (as a freshman),” Madison head track coach Steve Barrus said. “She just surprised us.”
The 2016 5A state meet was the last time Nealey ever lost in triple jump. She has surpassed 39 feet five times since then, including a personal best 39-9 at the 5A District 5-6 championships her junior year and 39-5.5 at the Tiger-Grizz Invitational this year to put her No. 1 in Idaho’s all-classification athletic.net rankings for 2019 and No. 85 in the U.S. as of June 1. Additionally, she claimed three state medals her sophomore and junior seasons.
As a senior this spring, Nealey attained and contributed to some big firsts in her career. She won four gold medals at Tiger-Grizz (varsity girls 100, long jump, triple jump, 4x100-meter relay), won the same four events at the 5A District 5-6 championships and claimed four medals at the 5A state championships for the first time (fourth place in the 100 finals, first in long jump, first in triple jump, first in the 4x100). Her win in triple jump completed a state title three-peat and three-year undefeated streak, her long jump win was her first in that event at state, her 100 medal was her first state medal in that event and happened upon reaching her first 100 state finals and the 4x100 win was the first girls relay win at the 5A state meet by a District 6 team since 2002. Her personal best 12.34 in the 100 finals put her at No. 5 In Idaho’s all-classification athletic.net rankings (No. 2 in District 6) and her long jump personal best of 18-3 from Tiger-Grizz put her No. 2 all-classification in Idaho (No. 1 in District 6).
Nealey can now add the honor of being selected as the Post Register’s 2019 All-Area Female Track Athlete of the Year to her lengthy list of accolades.
“Rayven Nealey is probably the most versatile and probably the most outstanding female athlete (this year),” Skyline coach Chase Meyer. “Pretty talented all around.”
Nealey said as a freshman she could not have imagined everything the next three years brought her in track and field. She recalled high jump and hurdles being among her first events, having no knowledge of long jump or triple jump until later in the season. She said she definitely did not expect track to prompt so much interest from NCAA Division I colleges, leading to a short list comprised of Nevada, Georgia and LSU before signing with Nevada in April.
“I thought track was just going to be something my friend’s mom thought I was going to do,” Nealey said. “The people have made it better.”
The Bobcats have a lengthy history of producing successful multi-event athletes, and Barrus described Nealey as one of the most naturally gifted athletes the Madison coaches have ever worked with. He added that her accomplishments are all the more impressive considering she is not a year-round track athlete due to cheerleading commitments.
“She just goes out there and runs fast and jumps far and doesn’t overthink things,” Barrus said. “She just lets the talent flow out of her. It’s been pretty amazing to watch the ease with which she competes. It makes track look beautiful when she does it.”
While jumps have been Nealey’s strongpoint, the 100 became more of a focus her senior season. She lowered her personal best three times and save for the state finals, she won or placed second in every meet this spring. The emphasis on improving her running also carried over into the 4x100 team, which went undefeated this season.
Two years ago, Nealey was one of two sophomores on Madison’s 4x100 team which took second to Mountain View at the 5A state meet in what was deemed an all-time No. 1 District 6 time of 48.51. On May 18, Nealey anchored the Bobcats to the state title in 48.78, the first sub-49 second time by a District 6 team since that 2017 state runner-up finish.
“I didn’t expect to run as fast as I did that leg,” Nealey said. “Once I crossed the finish line and I heard them say our names, I just started bawling. Everyone was asking, Why are you crying? and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Our goal was to break 49 this entire time.”
Barrus said the chemistry between Nealey and 4x100 teammates Savannah Lee, Hannah Bolingbroke and Kayeli Wasden was excellent and their handoffs were spot on at state.
“They all liked each other,” Barrus said. “To win the 4x100 at any meet, you have to be almost perfect. We were as good as we’ve been all year.”
Nealey will now trade crimson and grey at Madison for blue, white and grey at Nevada, a school she is equally impressed with for their academics as well as athletics. While she said she might cry and feel intimidated when she sees female jumpers reaching 41 feet in college, she has acquired a ‘go with the flow’ approach to track that helped her combat nerves.
“I think especially this year, I wasn’t thinking much about anything at all,” Nealey said. “This year I just decided I was going to have fun.”