SHIPPENSBURG - One last jump.
That was all Tamaqua's Kayla Hope had left in her quest for a state gold medal in the long jump.
So she did the only thing a state champion would do. She let it all hang out and just went for it.
On her very last jump, which also turned out to be the last jump of the competition, Hope leapt 18 feet, 10-and-three-quarter inches to take home the PIAA Class AA gold medal in the long jump. The jump was much farther than her personal best of 17 feet, six-and-a-half inches from earlier in the season. Not only did the jump give her a new personal record, but it also landed her atop the medal podium.
"I am so excited," said Hope just moments after winning the gold medal. "I didn't expect this. My goal was just to get my best jump of the season and hopefully medal. To do this first out of all of my events is indescribable."
The long jump was one of the very first events of the day and Hope wasted no time getting things started. On her very first jump, the junior broke her personal record as she went for 17 feet, ten inches. It was then that Hope thought Friday might be her special day.
"I was feeling pretty confident after that," said Hope. "I had a good feeling even on my way here. I went to bed early, got up early and had breakfast. I just really wanted to do well.
"I really focused on my first jump and I just wanted to get one in. I scratched my first two jumps at districts, so I just wanted to get a mark so I could get into the finals and have some leeway with the board. It allowed me to really go for a jump if I wanted to - which I did."
Hope jumped 18 feet on her second jump before ending the preliminaries with a leap of 18 feet, eight inches - good enough for first place heading into the finals. Though she was in the driver's seat at the time, it was the wait and the anticipation that started to get to her.
"That was when I started to get nervous," admitted Hope. "When I found out I was seeded at the top I was nervous because I knew these girls could jump and I just had to wait it out. I was the last jumper and I knew these girls could jump whatever and top me at any second. That was probably the worst part, but I tried to handle it as best as I could."
Hope's fears became a reality, as the third to last jumper in Rochester's Erikka Williams went for 18 feet, ten-and-a-quarter inches. She smiled as Williams' distance was posted, but knew it was about to be do-or-die time.
She lined up as she normally would, took her wide first couple of steps and raced down the runway. She hit the board, went airborne and landed deep into the pit. She then got out and walked to the recorder to see what the verdict was.
"I was waiting there patiently, like 'Come on. What it is!?'" said Hope. "It felt good so I thought I had a chance.
"I really wanted to win. I knew that I was more than capable of it. I figured that I was just going to do what I could. I put everything I could into it because this was a chance of a lifetime."
Hope also managed to qualify for the 200-meter semi-finals on Saturday. She finished with a time of 26.45 seconds. Although she was fifth in her heat, she ranked 11th overall.
Fellow Raiders Zack Lakitsky and Eric Hertzog qualified for their respective AA semifinals as well. Lakitsky ran a time of 11.33 and 22.98 seconds in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes respectively. He was fourth in both heats and finished 14th (100) and 12th (200) overall.
"I mostly have to focus on keeping my speed," said a disappointed Lakitsky afterward. "I don't want to slow down. I slowed down in both races. I need to work on just keeping that speed.
"My start could definitely use some work. It was good and I want to keep it how it is, but I need to keep speeding up. I can't afford to slow down at all."
Hertzog finished the 110-meter hurdles in a time of 15.54 seconds. He was fifth in his heat and was the last person to qualify for the semifinals. Still, he will live to race another day.
Palmerton's Lauryn Solt managed to post a top-ten finish of her own. The sophomore tied for ninth in the AA high jump with a leap of 5-2. She faired two inches better than her district height.