PICKERINGTON — Highland High School’s Juliette Laracuente will long remember her first trip to the OHSAA Division II track and field championships.
At least until she tops the outstanding performance she turned in on Friday and Saturday at Pickerington High School North.
Laracuente, a talented sophomore, emerged from the weekend with a state championship, three event medals in hand, and some fresh ink in the Highland track and field record book. She captured the state title in the long jump on Saturday, overcoming adversity at the start of the competition to become a champion.
The epic day for Laracuente nearly ended before it really started as she fouled on her first two attempts, overstepping the board. Facing elimintion on her third opportunity, she started her jump short of the board, but completed a clean attempt measuring 17 feet, 2 .5 inches to remain in contention.
“The second one I was barely over. It was a massive jump,” she said. “So, I was very nervous going into my (third attempt). I made sure to cut myself back, because usually I’m behind the board instead of over the board. It’s like the second and third time I’ve ever fouled all season. I was really, really nervous — I was shaking. I guess my parents were up there biting their nails. My sister was and so was my boyfriend.
“Then I jumped it. All I wanted to do was qualify,” she noted. “I was sitting fifth and then I came through and I just wanted to jump my best and that’s what happened.”
Attempt No. 4 covered 17 feet, 7 inches, and Larcuente’s fifth jump — a personal record which ended up giving her the state title — measured 17 feet, 11.25 inches. She completed the competition with a leap of 17 feet, 5.25 inches.
“I knew it was a massive jump,” Laracuente said in regard to the winning leap. “I felt my elbow and my arm take out (sand) some, so I was kind of like, ‘Is it as big as I think it is’ or is it smaller because I took out so much sand. I was just really happy to just get that close. My coach told me to move back, so I moved back, but I was kind of just thinking in my head, ‘I just have to do what I’ve been trained to do.’
“As I get close to that board, I was kind of looking at it more than I usually do, just to make sure I don’t go over it,” she added. “I shortened up my last two or three (steps) to make sure I didn’t go over it again and foul myself out.”
Laracuente said winning a state championship in her first experience at the OHSAA meet was unexpected.
“I really wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “Calli Swisher (of Marlington) came in with an 18-foot jump as her PR and then there was a girl who ended up jumping 17-5 at regionals. I was sitting at 16-11.25, but I really wasn’t expecting to win. Those girls are so good. It hasn’t sunk in by any means at all.”
Laracuente collected her first state meet medal on Friday after finishing third in the finals of the high jump. She topped out at 5 feet, 5 inches in the high jump, finishing behind event champion Sydney Koker from Johnstown Northridge (5 feet, 7 inches) and state runnerup Jenna Young of Brooklyn (5 feet, 6 inches). Koker and Laracuente shared the top seed (5 feet, 6 inches) entering the state championships and Young was seeded second (5 feet, 5 inches).
Medal No. 3 was won Saturday afternoon with seniors Makenna Belcher and Peyton Carpenter and junior Brylinn Tuggle. The four ladies combined to finish sixth in the finals of the 4×100-meter relay and set a Highland record in the process. They posted a time of 49.78 seconds in the finals after qualifying with a time of 50.03 seconds in Friday’s preliminaries. They were seeded seventh heading into the final race.
“After not having season last year, it’s just really great to just get this far and PR,” Carpenter said. “We’ve PR’ed every time we ran the (4×100-meter relay). So we definitely accomplished a lot more than we thought we would. … This is definitely the most intense meet we’ve had, at least in my four years at Highland. It’s great to experience this. The crowd is a lot bigger and the pressure increases as you get higher.”
Belcher said the experience at the state meet was unlike any other she’s had in athletics.
“It’s just like a whole different atmosphere here,” she said. “Like, I’ve never even made it to a regional final before this year, so even making it to a regional final, let alone winning a regional title, was crazy. There’s so many talented people here. We’re just so blessed to have made it here. … The weather was definitely on our side today with it being so warm. We have been warming up harder just to get ready. Once we get out here we’re all calm because we just run our race and do our best that we can.”
After the initial surprise at the magnitude of the state championships, even a scaled-down version, Tuggle said the team settled in and went about their business.
“It was definitely a lot,” she said. “We walked in and saw all the people and it was just like, ‘Wow! We really made it this far.’ It was pretty cool.”
The top six teams in the finals were only separated by .69 seconds at the finish line. Beachwood captured the state title, posting a time of 49.09 seconds.
Highland senior Landyn Albanese competed in the preliminaries of both the 100-meter and 200-meter dash races on Friday. He posted the 12th best time in the 100 meters (11.25 seconds) and had the ninth fastest time in the 200 meters (22.60 seconds).
Scots junior Caden Holtrey placed 17th in the shot put. His best throw traveled 48 feet.