While most ninth-grade track athletes look forward to summer training and the opportunity to be competitive as sophomores, Westfield's Emma Seetoo holds one distinction that will separate her from almost every one of her freshman peers as they enter 10th grade - that of defending state champion.
Seetoo shocked many track fans at Todd Stadium on the first weekend in June by leaping 19-2 to capture the 6A outdoor girls' long jump championship. In doing so, Seetoo, tacked on over four inches to her personal best, and overcame a #3 seed to catapult to the front of the pack.
Amazingly, in spite of a loaded field that included indoor champion Nyla Ward of T.C. Williams and Osbourn Park's Megan Ogawa, both of whom had broken 19 feet, Seetoo took the lead from the opening jump and never looked back.
"Going in, I felt confident with the wins I had at districts and regionals, so I just knew I had the ability to compete with (Ward). With the seeding, I knew I was going to have to PR and perform on my "A" game," said the Bulldog, who opened with a leap of 18-9.25.
The nerves associated with holding the front position did not take effect right away, as Seetoo was unaware of her position.
"To be honest, I didn't actually know that I was in the lead after my first jump," said Seetoo, who added, "Because of that, I had to make sure I jumped well each time."
After her second leap, the winning jump of 19-2, there was no question as to who was leading. However, Seetoo, knowing that Ward's best jump was 19-8, did not get complacent. "I knew Nyla could come back with a jump that could surpass it."
Through the third preliminary round, and two rounds of finals, however, Seetoo's 19-2 held the lead, as Ward, who fouled on her opening jump, also scratched on jumps #3 and #5. "I was relieved when I saw the red flag," admitted Seetoo, when describing Ward's fifth jump. And after watching Grassfield's Destiny Copeland hit 18-6 on the event's next to last jump, the sense of relief, and victory, seeped in.
'I felt extremely happy that all the hard work and training paid off."
Her jumping coach at Westfield, Julian Bellamy, shares the feeling of accomplishment.
"Emma's best qualities are her competitive nature. She is an extremely hard worker and she truly has a love and passion for this sport. She is unique in her ability to learn quickly and she's never satisfied with where she is at."
Bellamy realized the importance of defeating Ward. "That was a huge confidence boost. This opportunity and recognition will fuel her for more success."
Seetoo stumbled a bit at the New Balance Nationals with a 17-4.25 for 28th place. Although she competed at the Indoor Nationals, it was in the freshman 400-meters, so this was her first time jumping at a national level meet.
"It was a great event for me," said Seetoo in a reflective moment. "If I (jumped) as far as the one I did at States, I would have qualified for finals and that made it a little tougher to deal with."
Yet, she is already looking ahead. "The experience at New Balance Nationals has lit a fire in me to come back stronger next week for the district qualifier for USATF Junior Olympics. Moreover, with both Ward and Ogawa returning as seniors next year, there should be a trio of long jumpers competing to see who will be the first to reach the elusive 20-foot barrier.
"That's definitely the goal," said Bellamy before NBN, and it is hard to imagine the focus will dwindle throughout the summer and fall.