He’s short and strong, quietly confident and athletically explosive.
At 5-foot-3 and 140 pounds, Jahleel Smith believes he can scale great heights, even if it calls for clearing a bar placed precariously, 14 feet off the ground at the end of a pole vault runway.
The undaunted Kent-Meridian senior had little trouble climbing that height, matching a personal-best mark, and winning his specialty at the West Central District 4A track and field meet at French Field last Saturday.
On an overcast, 60-degree day, Smith beat a strong field to qualify for the state championships that begin this weekend at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
Smith likes his chances for a state placement this time around. He struggled but managed to clear 12 feet, 6 inches at last year’s state meet.
He vows to be ready for this Friday’s showdown.
“I honestly feel I can PR (post a personal record) at state,” said Smith, a two-time state-class wrestler who finished third in the 138-pound Mat Classic finals at the Tacoma Dome in February. “Because it’s going to be my last meet, I know I’m going to be (mentally prepared). Chances are I’m going to PR, do a lot better and place fairly high.”
To get there, Smith has to reach higher. He tried but failed in three attempts to clear 14-6.
“I felt I could actually get it,” Smith said. “It was my steps. I was on for my 14(-foot clearance), but I was a little bit off on my 14-6 vault. … (The missteps) kinda propelled me not to get in as a deep.”
Joining Smith at Tacoma will be his district rival, Jake Philpott of Kentridge.
Philpott, a senior with a 14-foot vault to his credit this spring, settled for 13 feet on a week when illness kept him from practice. He hopes to regain his top form for state.
“My goal is to get up to 15 feet and try to get up with those guys,” said Philpott, sizing up a deep state field.
Matching heights with Smith has brought out the best in both of them.
“I guess, we’re competitive … and we support each other,” Philpott said.
Kentwood’s versatile senior Bailey Paladin, the Athlete of the Year for the South Puget Sound League’s Northeast Division, is in great demand.
On Saturday, he toiled out of Lane 6, finished sixth in the 200-meter final in 22.67 seconds and qualified for state. His personal best is 22.39.
At district, Paladin also qualified for state in the 100 (third, 10.97) and 400 relay (second, 42.13), in which he anchored the crew that included teammates Connor Benson, Brandon Stribling and Kaleb Swain. The sprint relay foursome has the state’s second-best time this season (42.07).
“Things are really starting to get important,” Paladin said. “I am ready to see what I can do.”
Like Paladin, Kentwood’s Stribling will be a busy man at state. Not only does he belong to the sprint relay, Stribling qualified for state in the long jump, where he secured the district title with a state-leading leap of 23-9½. He also is qualified in the 100 (fifth, 11.02).
Kent-Meridian junior Keeley Phommathirath and freshman Bri Kamran soared in the high jump finals Saturday, finishing first and third, with marks of 5-2 and 5-1, respectively.
“I’m excited to go to state,” said, Phommathirath, who tried but narrowly missed at 5-3. “This is a great confidence builder for me.”
Phommathirath earlier qualified for state in the 100 (third, 12.55). She also will join the Royals’ Jaleesa Taylor, Calia Tongco and Ashlei Robinson in the state-qualified 400 relay (second, 48.91).
Tongco also is state bound in the 100 hurdles (second, 15.13).
Kent-Meridian’s Nate Barton captured the 400 in 49.26, the state’s eighth-swiftest time this spring. … Kentridge’s Tanner Conner qualified in three events – 300 hurdles (second, 38,57), 110 hurdles (fourth, 14.74) and long jump (fifth, 22-3 ¼). He also is part of the 400 relay (third, 42.69) with Miguel Punsalan, Sam Mullins and Cannon Sires. … Kentwood’s Joe Ziller was fourth in the 300 hurdles (38.9). …
In girls results, Kentwood’s Amari Leander qualified for state in the 400 (second, 59.0). She also is part of the state-qualified 400 relay (fourth, 49.11) with Malea Munoz, Zaria Jones and Bebe Thomas, and state-bound 1,600 relay (fourth, 4:02.56) with Munoz, Catryce Thompson and Lindsay Tyler. … Kentridge sophomore Grace Klinkenberg is state bound in the 300 hurdles (fourth, 46.61) and 100 hurdles (fifth, 15.53). … For Kentlake, Lizzy Reichlinger won the pole vault (11-0) and Avalyne Peters made state in the high jump (fifth, 5-0). … Kentridge’s Emily Tea was second in the vault (10-6). … Kentwood’s Brittany Woke was third in the triple jump (37-5) and fifth in the long jump (17-5½).
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