CALN >> With a smile, she recalls how it all started, what initially pushed her towards the pole vault pit.
“I was a gymnast, so this is what everybody tells you to do after that. They’re like ‘you’re gonna be a good pole vaulter.’ I was like ‘all right, I guess I’ll try,’” Wissahickon’s Cala Lejman said, just a few steps away from the medal stand on this steaming afternoon at Coatesville Area High.
“It’s hard to go from being a high-level gymnast to starting over again with a score of zero,” she said of her first experience with the pole vault, not so long ago. “So it was really difficult for me. But after the first three months, you get into a groove and you just wanna keep doing it.”
Lejman began a steep, upward climb, the extent of which isn’t seen too often. Her first year, she earned silver at districts. On Friday, she vaulted to the District One Class AAA title, part of a medal-filled afternoon for locals at sunny Coatesville.
“It was a long year so it feels good to come out and do really well,” said Lejman, a senior who will compete at Villanova next year. “I was aiming for over 12 feet but you do what you can. Last year was my first year so this being my second year, it’s been a dream to really do well and keep getting better.”
The Trojan standout was the only competitor to clear 11 feet, out-distancing herself from district competition that included Council Rock South’s Madison Metague (10-6) and Owen J. Roberts’ Savanna Sachar (10-6).
Once a Level Nine gymnast training for Level 10, Lejman made the switch to track and field and is also depended upon in the sprints for Wiss. She’s also been doing her share of lifting.
“It really helps in the pole vault,” Lejman said. “I am so excited (for states). It’s gonna be my second year there and I love the crowd.”
And then she’ll soon be off to ‘Nova.
“Dream come true,” the senior said. “I love the team. I’ve met a lot of the girls on the team and the girls coming in are really good so we’re gonna have a great freshman class coming in.”
The Suburban One League American Conference wasn’t finished winning golds.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Taylor O’Brien soared over the bar on her first attempt at 5-8 to put the Colonials on top of the medal stand.
“It’s crazy. I didn’t think that was gonna happen,” the junior said after claiming the AAA High Jump title. “I just kinda jumped and I guess the intensity of the moment took off.”
O’Brien even took a shot at the district record of 5-9, set in 1985. Clearing 5-8 pushed her past stiff competition that included Central Bucks South’s Valerie Przekop (5-5) and Cheltenham’s Brianna Smith (5-5).
“Just to be able to go back out to states next week and tear it up, I’m really excited,” said O’Brien, who took the final steps to a district gold this season after earning silver as a sophomore. “(On my winning jump), everything was tight all at once. So it picked up my spirits and picked up my aggressiveness and I just kinda took off from there.”
Madison Langley-Walker has grown pretty accustomed to winning district titles. The Upper Dublin junior captured her third straight gold in the AAA Long Jump, getting out 19-1.5 to pull off a rare three-peat.
“It feels great. I was a little tired at first because of the 100 hurdles,” said Langley-Walker, who also won the title her freshman and sophomore year while competing for Cheltenham. “I had to run back over and get my steps, make sure I was on the board. I felt a little tired on my run throughs but I felt like I had to pull out a big jump in order to go past my last one and go onto finals.”
Langley-Walker held off challengers Michelle Brown-Jones of Upper Darby (18-3.25) and Perkiomen Valley’s Christina Warren (18-0.25) for top honors.
“I went to finals hoping I could at least get a big jump and I did that, came up with a 19-1,” Langley-Walker said. “I had positive thoughts about that and then it was time to turn my mind over to 300 hurdles. It feels great to come back and do at least a further jump than I did last year. Hopefully I can come back next year as a senior and do it again.”
A senior who is definitely going out the right way is Souderton Area’s Shamar Jenkins, champion of the boys triple jump in Class AAA.
He won gold with a leap of 48-11.25 and once again punched his ticket to Shipp.
“I’m actually looking forward to states a lot. Putting down a 48 here gives me a good idea of what’s gonna happen at states,” said Jenkins, who was a silver medalist in the triple as a junior and now a gold medalist as a senior. “And I know the competition’s gonna be good so I know I’m gonna have to pull out something crazy.”
Jenkins reeled off his winning jump on his second-to-last turn in the finals. Wissahickon’s Ahmir Johnson was second with a 47-0.75 and Upper Dublin’s Brian Kaufmann was third with a 47.
Jenkins was wearing two medals by the end of the day, adding to a bronze he earned in the high jump (6-5).
He could add a third medal on Saturday in the long jump and then next week, he’ll be competing at his future home — Jenkins accepted a full ride to Shippensburg University.
“(I want to) medal in all three events at states, the perfect way to end my senior year,” he said.
Another senior out of the SOL Continental is Pennridge’s Griffin McMann, who made an amazing surge from 2016 to 2017 in the discus, throwing 20 feet further and jumping up nine places from 11th to second.
“It was great. Huge PR — PR by 15 feet,” the Rams’ standout thrower said. “I worked with my coaches and also Quakertown’s throws coach (Justin Kucharski) on Tuesday and Wednesday, fixed some things that were wrong with my technique.”
The 90-degree heat on Friday was masking something — an unpredictable wind that forced the throwers to adjust.
“The wind was really taking the disk,” McMann said. “But coach Justin just made the suggestion, just bring that block arm down, so my throws started going straight and I got the ones I needed to get.”
McMann earned the silver with a mark of 156-5, pushing past West Chester Rustin’s Edem Asamoa.
“We’re going for the district (team) title, and this eight points were pretty unexpected,” McMann said. “So it definitely helped towards that.
“Great start, and I have even higher expectations for myself (Saturday) in the shot put.”
He’ll be going after another medal and possibly a school record (Ryan Sterling, 53-10.5, 2014).
“He was a senior when I was a freshman,” McMann said of Sterling. “It’s always great, someone that was such a role model to me and still is, and now I’m in his position. And I’m achieving things that he did.
“When I was a freshman I was like ‘wow, Ryan Sterling, throwing 53 feet.’ And now it’s me.”
In Class AA, Dock got a gold-medal effort from Alex Martin in the shot put (44-2) and an inspired performance from Sabrina Demetrius.
After missing most of the season with an Appendicitis, Demetrius won a gold medal in the discus in just her second meet back.
“I was really upset that my whole season was taken away from me. I wanted to come out here and prove that I wasn’t going to let this stop me from continuing and finishing my senior year strong,” she said.
Demetrius defended her district title, throwing 109-9 for the gold.
“I was out for about three weeks,” she said of the season. “My coaches just let me stretch out, see how I felt about it, just throw power, and the rest is history. They’ve been really happy and supportive and I’m very happy with how this is going.
“I wouldn’t change it,” she said. “(Battling back to win a district title is) probably the biggest thing I’ve done in my career. Hopefully I’ll go for shot put as well (on Saturday).”
Day Two of districts get underway at 9 a.m., with finals in the field and on the track.
Top Photo: Upper Dublin’s Madison Langley-Walker won gold in the Class AAA long jump at the District 1 Track and Field Championships on Friday, May 19, 2017. (Mikey Reeves/For Digital First Media)