Blue Waves take girls track county crowns in shot put and high jump

Riverhead is home to two Suffolk County girls winter track champions.

After placing first in the January league finals, Ja’dah Williams Booker and Kayleanne Campbell took it one step further Sunday afternoon at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, besting their previous efforts and, for Campbell, setting a new personal record.

Campbell came off what she described as a “disappointing” showing in last month’s league championships. Though she finished in first place by clearing the 5-feet-0-inch high jump bar, that was not her best effort. Campbell was the No. 1 seed coming into the large school county championships, with a highest jump of 5-feet-3-inches written next to her name. Every track athlete tries to beat their best — it’s a clear sign of improvement. 

“In the leagues I was definitely nervous and watching what the other girls were doing around me,” Campbell said. “I didn’t have the right head space to compete. So for the counties I really focused on my mental game and cleared my mind.”

Campbell cleared 4-feet-10, then 5-feet, and then 5-feet-1 with ease. When her closest competitor, Akailia Stephenson of Bay Shore, couldn’t convert at 5-feet-2, Campbell lined up and made it on the first attempt.

Kayleanne Campbell celebrates her win in the high jump at Saturday’s county championship. (Bill Landon photo.)

That jump made her county champ. But it wasn’t enough. Riverhead track coach Maria Dounelis took Campbell aside and encouraged her to keep going. 

“You’re jumping really well today,” she told her. “Why not give it a shot?”

Campbell walked away from the pep talk and beelined to the judge.

“Can I try 5-feet-4?,” Campbell asked. 

“Of course,” he answered. “You have five minutes to get ready.”

Campbell took her time. She did extra stretches, practiced jumping and, most important, focused on the task at hand. Every opponent was eliminated. It was just her against the bar.

When the time came, Campbell took center stage, fixed a piece of tape on the mat to mark her launch point and took off toward the bar. She got up and over, just barely nipping the crossbar with her backside. It wobbled just a bit. Campbell turned around and saw the bar still in place.

“I had to have the right head space,” Campbell said. “I knew I could do it. I can jump 5-feet-4. I just never did it in a competition before. When there’s no pressure in practice it’s a lot different. Jumping over and over and fixing your posture only takes you so far. Having a clear mental space is key. I took Friday off of practice to focus on my mental approach. This morning I woke up and I just told myself ‘I’m not going to worry about what everyone else is doing. I’m just going to focus on me.’”

Williams Booker also had a performance to remember — though she was slightly disappointed with the result. In her second throw of the day, the senior shot putter unleashed a perfect put that surpassed every opponent by a country mile. When the judge went to mark the spot, it looked like Williams Booker was shorted some distance. When the results were read aloud, Williams Booker looked to the skies in disbelief. 37-feet-2.5-inches was the official distance.

Her career personal best is 37-feet-3-inches. 

“I honestly expected to do a lot better,” Williams Booker said. “I’ve been throwing much farther in practice. Personally I thought that one throw was closer to 39 or 40. I think after that second throw I was so frustrated and it took me out of my element the rest of the way.”

Even so, the 37-02.50 feet blew the competition out of the water. The next closest competitor was nearly four feet behind. Williams Booker is really in a class of her own, competing solely against herself.

With state qualifiers on tap for the next meet, the 40-foot mark remains fresh on the senior’s mind.

“This is my final season as a Blue Wave,” WIlliams Booker said. “I want to leave knowing I gave it my all.”