HIGH SCHOOL TRACK AND FIELD: Stever takes second in long jump
SHIPPENSBURG — The moment got to Jessica Stever, but she came back to redeem herself in a big way.
Stever rebounded from a disappointing showing in her marquee event, the high jump, in the morning session and took second place in the Class AAA long jump Friday afternoon to earn her first career medal at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
Down in the dumps after failing to clear a height in the high jump, Stever made up for it later in the day.
“She did, there’s no doubt about it,” Indiana coach Pat Snyder said.
“I feel like I did,” Stever said. “I was really disappointed after the high jump, and I just wanted to put that disappointment into my long jump and just try harder.”
Stever was the lone area medalist on a largely disappointing first day of the state meet for the local contingent. Of the 10 area athletes who competed in field events Friday, only Stever reached the finals or earned a medal, and on the track, only Ligonier Valley’s Jasmine Connor managed to advance to today’s finals among the local athletes competing in the preliminaries.
Stever took second with a jump of 18 feet, 3 inches, while Connor ran a school-record time of 58.68 seconds in the Class AA 400-meter dash. Hempfield’s Maddie Holmberg won the long jump at 19-3.
Still a relative newcomer to the long jump, an event she didn’t try until she got to high school this season, Stever has shown exponential growth in a short time.
Prior to the WPIAL Championships a week ago, Stever’s personal-best jump in the long jump was a respectable 16-9. Then, after tweaking her takeoff, Stever jumped 18-4ﾽ at the WPIAL meet to set the school record, and she reached 18 feet for the second straight meet Friday.
“She’s an incredible athlete, and who knows what she’s going to do in the next couple years,” Snyder said. “She’s just an impressive track and field athlete.”
Interestingly, the tweak Stever made came at the suggestion of the Indians’ throwing coach, of all people. George Caroff, a former jumping coach at Indiana, told Stever to try getting more air on her takeoff at the WPIAL Championships last weekend.
Treat it like your takeoff in the high jump, or imagine going up for a layup in basketball, Caroff told her.
Stever took the advice and ran with it, all the way to a second-place medal.
“He kind of put references to high jump and basketball and it helped me on my takeoff,” Stever said. “It feels a lot different. It feels better than it was before.”
“I just tried to give her a reference point, something she could relate to,” Caroff said, “and the rest was all her. She’s just a great athlete.”
Connor competed in three preliminary races Friday after qualifying for the state meet in the 200 and 400 dashes as well as the 300 hurdles.
She broke her own school record in the 400 to reach today’s finals.
“It was all right. It wasn’t too bad,” Connor said. “I mean, I’m going to the finals in one of my events, so that’s pretty good.”
In Friday’s morning session, Stever failed to clear the starting height of 5-2 in the high jump. It’s a height the Indiana freshman cleared with regularity this season. Her personal best is a school-record jump of 5-8ﾽ. Fleetwood’s Cyre Virgo won with a jump of 5-9.
Stever’s troubles started on her first attempt, when she missed and tightened up.
“After I didn’t clear it the first time, I think I just got really nervous and it got in my head and it just didn’t work out,” Stever said. “I just got really nervous in the high jump, and later in the day, I just kind of took it all in and was just a little bit more used to it, a little more relaxed.”
“I don’t know, she just didn’t make it,” Snyder said. “Her last jump, she kicked it a little bit with her heel, but that’s the way that went. But the long jump was awesome. She’s improved about two feet in two weeks in that.”
Other area girls competing in Class AA field events Friday were: Saltsburg’s Kia Clayton (long jump and high jump); Penns Manor’s Devon Bratton (pole vault); Apollo-Ridge’s Reannah Martin (pole vault); and United’s Kennedy Fletcher, Penns Manor’s Sarah DaBella and Ligonier Valley’s Amanda Ross, all of whom competed in the discus. Fletcher, who earned a medal in the discus as a junior last season, had one of her better throws of the season with a heave of 116-10, but she finished 11th and didn’t reach the finals.
On the boys’ side, Homer-Center’s Mike Newhouse competed in the Class AA shot put, Indiana’s Darrious Carter fell just short of the Class AAA triple jump finals, and teammate Jacob Kester competed in the Class AAA pole vault.
Carter jumped 45-4ﾽ in the triple jump, just 1ﾽ inches short of his personal best, but it wasn’t enough to get him to the finals, and he finished 10th.
“He didn’t have a bad day,” Snyder said. “He also ran a 2:01 split in the 4-by-8, which is an incredible time. So he had a very good day today, both in the relay and the triple jump. It just wasn’t good enough. The competition was just a tiny bit better. I said to him, ‘There’s nothing you did wrong today. You did everything right, just didn’t quite make it in.’”
On the track, seven area athletes and four relay teams competed in the preliminaries, but none reached the finals.
In Class AA girls’ competition, United’s Laken Pudliner ran in the 100 hurdles, while Hannah Fulton (1,600) and Taya Whitfield (800) represented Marion Center at the state meet.
On the boys’ side, Northern Cambria’s Seth Bearer and United’s Gage George competed in the Class AA 400, and Purchase Line’s Dan Learn ran in the 800.