Centennial grad Neumann says goodbye with a state decathlon title

Centennial senior and state decathlon champion Joshua Neumann poses for a photograph on May 16 at Centennial High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Joshua Neumann had reason to wonder if he would ever be healthy heading into the big meet or the big game.

The recent Centennial graduate never was, until the final meet of his high school career.

And in that meet, the state multis meet May 10-11 at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Neumann earned the title of Arizona’s best athlete by winning the decathlon with 5,394 points. A year prior, he led through four of 10 events when a random injury knocked him out of the competition.

“Junior year I went to decathlon state. I was looking good to win my class. In the fourth event, I was coming off the high jump mat, nothing too crazy. I just stepped off and rolled my ankle. I couldn’t compete in the rest of the meet. At that point, I was very devastated,” Neumann said.

It was particularly tough for Centennial coach Simone Terry, who said combined events like the decathlon and heptathlon are one of her passions.

As an International Association of Athletics Federations Level V coach, Terry said working towards this certification it helped shape and guide the principals and philosophies she has with combined events within the program.

“I allow my athletes to compete in an early combined events meet to get a baseline and feel for the event. We use dual meets and a complex daily training schedule to work on the events they need to improve on,” Terry stated in an email. “Josh injuring himself at the state multis meet in 2018, in the high jump had to be one of the most devastating things to watch as a coach because I knew how bad he wanted it. However, I knew if there was anyone up for the job to plan the perfect comeback it would be him.”

By this point, Neumann was used to comebacks. And this was not his worst injury — by a long shot.

He started playing football at age 9 with his dad coaching. Neumann was a freshman football captain and did not think of track until freshman football coaches encouraged him to try a spring sport.

Weeks after starting, he was promoted to the varsity team. That news quickly moved to the back burner.

“I was stretching and I fractured the growth plate in my hip and detached part of my hamstring. Instead of tearing, it pulled off the top of my hip. I went up to coach Cherry at the time. He said, ‘Before you tell me anything, I have news for you. You’re going to be competing in your first varsity invitational.’ And I’m like, ‘I also have news for you. I’m broken,’” Neumann said.

He played football the next fall, but struggled as a sophomore in track because he never let his hip recover.

Neumann was at a crossroads. He needed to heal — and realized he was built more for success on the track and the gridiron.

“Junior year I decided I’m taking football off and I’m going to hit track hard,” Neumann said. “It was at that point where I made the big step, from no longer doing football to all my focus being on track.”

Terry’s background in multi events helps, but the Coyotes also benefit from assistant coach Brad Wharton’s background.

Unlike many track athletes trying the decathlon for the first time, Neumann had a decent idea what was going on during his junior year.

“There’s a lot of athletes that would say, ‘my coach just threw me in and kind of walked me though hurdles, pole vault and what not. Our school has Brad Wharton, and he coaches us in almost every single event,” Neumannn said.

Soon after his junior year ankle injury, Neumann restarted training. But he quickly felt popping in knee.

An examination confirmed he’d torn his meniscus. Four weeks after his surgery, he was back at it.

“When I saw him in the fall with a second injury I was a little thrown off because I knew we were going to have a high mountain to climb, but Josh looked me in the eye and said, ‘Coach, I’ll be okay, we got this!’ At that point I knew the voice of the athlete within him and saw this as fuel instead of a roadblock,’ Terry stated.

A week before the decathlon meet, Neumann placed third in his best individual event, the 110-meter hurdles, at the Division II state track meet.

He set personal records in his first two decathlon events and was on his way. Neumann still struggles with the pole vault but remained in control.

Phoenix Brophy College Prep sophomore William Bastman placed second with 5,306 points. Fellow Centennial senior Noe Grim placed eighth with 4,824 points.

“When he stepped on the track for the first event I knew something magic was about to happen over the next two days. He was prepared for the moment from a coaching perspective, but most important he was mentally checked in to the process you must go through to complete 10 events in two days. We saw personal record after personal record and I knew the momentum set the stage for the gold,” Terry stated.

The moment was particularly sweet for Ray and Estella Neumann.

“I saw my mom crying. My mom and dad were a big part of this,” Neumann said.

That may be Neumann’s last track memory. He will attend Northern Arizona University after earning the full-tuition Lumberjack Scholarship.

He is thinking about entering the biomedical program at NAU, but is not sure yet.

“As far as my scholarship opportunities went, I put all my focus on academics,” Neumann said.

He said he may walk on for the Lumberjacks’ track program next spring.

Terry said she hopes Neumann does, since his heart and grit made him Arizona’s best athlete in 2019.

“I absolutely hope that he continues to pursue track and field. Any coach that is willing to take this diamond in the rough will be well pleased with the talent they have to work with. Once he has time to really put things together at the next level we will be writing about him again, because this is only the beginning of something special for this athlete. If he pursues it, it’s his for the taking,” Terry stated.

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