#10 - Coming In Clutch At The Indoor State Meet
It was the jump heard around the State. Or, at least, the Ocean Breeze Track and Field Facility.
Coming into the State Meet, Junior Jeremiah Willis (Cicero-North Syracuse) was a known quantity. He had jumped well the year before, in an admittedly down year for both the Long and the Triple Jump. His personal best's were modest coming into 2018, never besting 43-0 or 22-5 Indoors before. He had improved out to 46-high and 23-low once outdoors, proving he had the potential, and he was an athlete on the rise. But there was still doubt.
Much of that came from a gradual approach to the event. Competing locally for most of the Winter, Willis was limited to a sub-optimal step count in his approach. Where a Jumper typically puts out 15-steps to his approach, Willis was hovering around 11. It produced some doubt to those only looking the results. Sure, he was jumping 47-feet with some consistency, and over 23-feet as the season progressed deeper, but there were also new up-and-comers around the State. Willis was sure to meet them at States.
And meet them he did. Willis wasn't the top seed in the Long, and only just in the Triple. With TJ being first at the Indoor State Meet, the battle was on. The main competitors were sure to be Robert Blue (Harrison), and a new name in Sophomore Jadan Hanson (Uniondale). Willis took his first jump, now off of 7-steps, and launched a 45-6.50 to get his bearings. A good start, but Hanson had upped the ante, leading after the first round with a 46-4.50 mark. It had been the first time all season Willis wasn't leading a jumping competition, and it was all the motivation he needed.
It was the next round, and Willis was ready to let one go. He launched himself down the runway, and let loose a monster effort. He knew it as soon as he landed and looked at the tape. This one was out there. With confirmation of a legal jump, and the board swinging around, Willis let loose the excitement. He had hit 49-5.75, a new Indoor Section 3 Record. It's the 8th best jump from a New Yorker Indoors, and it sealed away the competition. Riding the high, he put out another one in the finals at 49-5.5, but the meet was already over for the competition. It was the fifth furthest jump of the Season in the Country, and it reminded the United States who Willis was.
Willis would go on to win the Long Jump competition at States as well. Say what you will, but Willis knew how to show up at big competitions. He reminded the Country of that one week later, where he launched a new Junior State Record to take silver on jump-backs at Indoor Nationals. He jumped 24-5.5. His best coming into the meet, indoors or out, had never been within a foot of that.
He would go on to do the same Outdoors. Once again, Hanson put the heat on Willis at States, jumping 49-3.25, just off the Soph State Record. Willis responded with another two-foot season best, hitting a wind-legal 49-9.25 to win. In the Long Jump, albeit in D2, Joshua McCleary (Greece-Olympia) threw down a 24-1.25 in the Long Jump. Willis answered back to win his division in 24-3, another foot long seasonal best. It was that "clutch performing" that nabbed Willis the Gatorade Athlete of the Year nod. In arguably the hardest year there has ever been for deciding the honor, it was Willis, with four Gold Medals, plus more from his efforts in the 55m, 100m, and 4x100m at the State Level, that would give him the edge. However, it all started in that Triple Jump pit at Ocean Breeze. Willis proved he could produce when it mattered. And that put the State on watch, whenever he's on the runway under pressure, it's worth the watch.