WALKER – The resolve for Walker’s Kaitlyn Hayes to qualify for this year’s LHSAA Class 5A state track and field meet began with a disappointing result a year ago.
Hayes displayed steady growth in her first attempt at the sport, qualifying for regionals and getting to the doorstep of the state meet.
The only thing that separated Hayes was six inches, a barrier that’s driven to new lengths this season.
“It motivated me to do better,” she said. “I had gotten to 16-6. That was my furthest. That was my bare minimum this year. I worked harder and I kept going up. It’s a huge improvement this year and that’s why I’m so proud of myself.”
Not only did Hayes help Walker qualify in both the 4x100 and 4x200 relays for the third straight year, but the junior also nailed down a qualifying mark of 17 feet, 10 inches – a personal best – in the long jump to earn a berth in Saturday’s state meet at LSU’s Bernie Moor Track Stadium.
“I feel like I can do better,” Hayes said. “I got 17-10 on my second or third jump (at regionals) when my legs were feeling good. Now that I know what I did and how I did it; I watched the video; the runway’s the same as Zachary. If I’m warmed up enough, my first three jumps should be my best and I should get over 18 feet. I’ll try to get 19.”
Hayes is one of five representatives for Walker competing at state, joining team members Daeyln Lake, Ralyn Johnson and Tarondia Harold on both sprint relays units.
The Lady Cats also feature high jumper Lillie Waguespack, while the Wildcats will have pole vaulter Blaze Hayden.
With an additional event added to her work load, Hayes believes her past state meet experience will be beneficial.
“The first two years I was excited to be there,” she said. “It was humbling because of all of the hard work that led me there. I didn’t expect to get as far this year. But doing the long jump last year, I kept working at it and felt I got a lot better.”
With a better foundation in which to build on, Hayes found video on YouTube before the start of the season to help work on technical aspects with her legs and arms that’s further contributed to her development this season.
“I didn’t know anything about it or how to do it last year,” she said. “I was going out there to get points for my team and I was jumping 13 and 14 feet and thought I was doing so good.
“Then I started getting better and gained a love for it,” she said. “I watched YouTube how to use my legs in the air and what to do with my arms. I started digging deeper into it and working harder and it’s gotten me to where I am now.”
Hayes, a member of Walker’s Class 5A state semifinalist basketball team, realizes the challenge of contending for a state long jump championship is a steep one.
With her qualifying mark, Hayes is seeded sixth in the nine-member field and with four of the five marks ahead of her being 18 feet or better, she remains optimistic about her chances.
“It just makes we want to go harder and makes me want to go farther”, she said. “I’m the underdog. Anything can happen at state. Someone could have a bad jump and I could have the best jump. You just have to get it done.”
Hayes has much the same mindset in both of the relay events where she’s hopeful of gradual improvement from Walker’s previous finishes of seventh and ninth, respectively, in the two relays.
The Lady Cats are seeded seventh in both events with times of 1:44.79 in the 4x200 and 49.30 in the 4x100.
“Once we’re there and on the track, and the race starts everything’s going to be OK,” she said. “We’ll still be nervous because it’s always a nerve-racking thing. If we get our handoffs right and the adrenaline’s pumping, we’ll be OK.”
Simms going for pole vault sweep
Live Oak’s Clayton Simms, the state indoor champion in the pole vault, is looking to sweep the event and claim the state outdoor crown as well. His 15-foot regional clearance ranks him in a tie for second going into state.
Denham Springs’ Cailey Aucoin will be competing in the javelin where she’s seeded eighth after her 110-4 effort in regionals.