It didn’t seem like a gamble in the mind of Eisenhower’s Ryleigh Jackson.
Everyone told her how great she was at volleyball, but Jackson had always enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the different events of track and field and decided to quit her club volleyball team to make track and field her top priority.
The gamble paid off on Friday at the Kansas track and field meet at Cessna Stadium, as Jackson came through with a personal-best mark of 18 feet, 3 1/2 inches to win the Class 5A championship. It was the first time Jackson had surpassed 18 feet and the first time she had won a meet in the event this season.
“I hadn’t got a PR all season and I haven’t really been doing as good as I wanted,” Jackson said. “So to top it off with breaking 18 feet and winning state, I’m so happy right now.
“It’s so crazy right now I can’t even express it.”
The decision stemmed from Jackson’s disappointment following last year’s state meet, where she failed to medal in all three of her individual events. Jackson felt like her legs and energy were drained from the club volleyball season.
She decided to give up competitive volleyball in the winter and spring and focus on improving in her jumping events: the pole vault, long jump, and triple jump.
On Friday, Eisenhower’s duo of Jackson and Jaden Damon (17-0) took the top two spots on the podium.
“I remember how frustrated she was after last year’s state meet, so to see her do what she did today was just really special,” said Eisenhower’s Steve Blue, Jackson’s jumps coach. “Ryleigh has so much potential. She’s so strong and works so hard in the weight room, so I’m glad to see all that hard work pay off.”
Jackson said although the results throughout the season weren’t what she was aiming for, her plan of peaking at the state meet was fulfilled.
“I was really focused today on jumping best since I was at the state meet,” Jackson said. “I think my legs were fresh and I just extended my legs and tried to land on my butt and it finally came together.”
That work ethic is familiar to her mother, Heather Jackson.
Heather is reminded of Brian Jackson, Ryleigh’s father who died eight years ago, every time she watches her daughter compete.
Watching her daughter stand atop the podium at Cessna Stadium, right across the street from the cemetary where Brian is buried, was a surreal moment for Heather.
“There is no doubt, 100 percent that is her dad’s work ethic,” Heather Jackson said. “I know he would be so proud of her right now. The way she puts her mind to something and accomplishes it is so incredible to me. I know she had an angel looking down on her today.”