Riverhead took home two first-place finishes at the League I girls winter track championships at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Saturday night.
Ja’dah Williams Booker led the field in shot put distance with a mark of 37 feet, 1 inch and Kayleanne Campbell finished first with a high jump of 5 feet.
Williams Booker not only had the furthest put in League I but also surpassed every competitor throughout Suffolk County, with her closest challenger being nearly four feet behind. It was a welcome sight for the senior following an abrupt end to her junior season last year. After accomplishing her career-best put at last-year’s state qualifiers tournament with a distance of 39 feet, 2 inches, which punched her ticket New York championships, Williams Booker tore her labrum.
“The shoulder injury happened during states so I didn’t do well there,” Williams Booker said. “But hey, I made it there. So that’s something I’ve always been proud of. Working through this injury has been the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my life. I’ve been doing everything I can to accelerate the process and get back to where I was before the injury. But I finally feel like I’m coming around to where I should be.”
The senior has come a long way from being mostly a basketball player before turning into a track star. Her first encounter with shot put was in middle school when she tried out for the track team in hopes of staying in shape for basketball. But after one of the coaches suggested she try the shot put, Williams Booker found her real calling.
“It’s just something I felt I was naturally good at,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you stop working though. I spend countless hours in the gym training for the event and trying to be the best version of myself.”
When it comes to shot put, every little thing matters in the technique — strength is just one key to success.
“Before a big event like this I try to just focus on my technique,” Williams Booker said. “I try to go in there with a clear mind and just execute the steps necessary for success. When I get out of the first part of my glide, if my knee is not bent right or my foot’s not turned or my hip is not deep into my throw, it’s not going past 32 feet.”
“Ja’dah has been practicing so well,” Riverhead track coach Maria Dounelis said. “She’s starting to get those big numbers in practice but today her whole aura was different. I knew she was going to dominate. She was simply ready to go and compete and that’s what it comes down to for everyone. Getting your head right and just doing it. She didn’t even grunt today. Wait until she grunts, we’ll get another foot out of her.”
The goal for Williams Booker is to get back to that state level and put her best foot forward. She has her sights set on 42 or 43 feet by the end of the season.
“I feel like I’m getting closer to where I need to be,” Williams Booker said. “Just have to keep pushing.”
Campbell didn’t have her best performance but nevertheless still took first place in the league. The junior took a big step forward from the beginning of her sophomore year until now. After jumping around 4-feet-6-inches to 4-feet-10 through the majority of last winter season, Campbell turned up the heat in the spring and started hitting numbers in the 5-foot range which earned her second in Suffolk County and eventually a spot in nationals.
“Being in the states and nationals last year gave me so much experience,” Campbell said. “I’m bringing what I learned last year into this season and hoping to do better.”
Campbell’s best jump this season was 5 feet, 3 inches, which would have been good for first place among all competitors in Suffolk County on Saturday.
“The biggest obstacle Kayleanne has is herself,” Dounelis said. “She just needs to have that confidence in herself. She’s gifted. She’s got height. She’s athletic. She practices fabulously. She just needs to come into competitions with the right mindset. And when she does, there’s nobody stopping her. She just needs to believe it. She should be walking around the gym like she owns the place. She’s the best in Suffolk County. Everyone should be afraid of her.”
“The hardest part of this is just the mental game,” Campbell said. “It’s such a hard event and everything needs to go right and it’s easy to get down on yourself. But I have been trying to push myself and get better every day.”
Dounelis thinks Campbell can get to 5-feet-6-inches if she puts her mind to it.
“When you see college track athletes, they look like her,” Dounelis said. “She’s born to do this event. When everything clicks for her, the sky’s the limit.”