Southeast triple jumper Jamillah Bonner was forced to push herself in her best event for the first time in a while, and there were a few attempts when it looked as if she were cracking as was she went for those extra few inches.
But she rose to the occasion when it mattered most Friday at the Kansas track and field championships.
Blue Valley West's Sarah Buschmann had been going back and forth with Bonner throughout the competition, and on her third attempt Buschmann hit Bonner with a leap of 39 feet, 2 1/2 inches. That sparked a celebration from BV West athletes camped out near the landing pit.
Bonner had a small cheering section of her own in teammate Dana Gates, who happened to stand in front of the BV West athletes.
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Moments later, Bonner countered Buschmann with a clutch jump of 39-7 — prompting Gates to turn around and give a little friendly smile to the cheering section behind her. That jump turned out to be the winning leap.
Buschmann later landed a jump of 39-6 1/2 on her final attempt, but the half-inch made all of the difference.
"I think I was starting to get more nervous and more competitive," Bonner said. "I saw that Sarah was competing with me. So I was like, 'I like this. I haven't had this in a while — someone to compete with me.' So in my first two jumps in the finals, I started messing up. I felt like it was a lot of pressure on me, but I just finished it off strong."
Southeast coach Mark Lamb knew that Bonner was having fun being pushed by Buschmann.
"Jamillah — one thing about her is she's a competitor," Lamb said. "Of course, they competed against each other last year, too. I know Jamillah really wanted to win it, that's for sure."
Bonner entered the state meet hoping to jump more than 40 feet. She may not have achieved it, but the first-time state winner admitted it was still an experience winning the way she did.
"My goal was to jump a 41. I've got next year, but I really wanted it this year," Bonner said. "I can work through the summer and get better at it. But I won with a 39-7, barely.... I'm excited."
Lamb noticed how a heated competition inspired Bonner.
"There hasn't been anybody to really push her until now," Lamb said. "And then Sarah really did push her. It was just a half-inch difference, but that's all it takes sometimes. That's all it takes."
After making that jump of 39-7, Bonner seemed to shift her focus to trying to break the state record of 40-1 3/4, and focusing on the record seemed to throw her off. She jumped an uncharacteristically low 32-6 3/4 on her fourth attempt, then she ran through a jump on her fifth attempt before hitting a 38-6 1/2 on her final attempt.
"We thought that she would get out over 40 feet. She was close, but just not close enough," Lamb said. "The girl did her last jump, we knew she had it made. We were hoping she'd be able to relax and get that last one out there.... That's all right. She's a state champion. That's the biggest thing."