Bland surpasses all expectations, wins high jump

The Boardman High freshman went higher than even she imagined she could.
DAYTON -- Amber Bland knew the odds were stacked against her.
The Boardman High standout had heard the "Oh, you're a freshman" comments and had visions of a third-place finish in the Division I state high jump competition Friday at Welcome Stadium.
Bland didn't suspect what was about to happen.
"I heard all the girls were jumping 5-[foot]-8, and I've never gotten 5-8 before -- ever," Bland said.
Until Friday.
School record: Bland leaped 5-9 to win the state high jump title and, in doing so, set a school record that surpassed her 5-71/4 mark from earlier this season.
"I looked at those trees up there to relax," said Bland, speaking of the trees beyond the end of a Welcome Stadium wall.
Asked if being a state champion had sunk in, Bland said, "No. It feels like I'm not even here."
Janet Frank, a four-time state qualifier for Boardman in the late 1970s, held the high jump record before Bland's heroics this season.
"She's had a tremendous year," Boardman coach Denise Gorski said of Bland. "But today she impressed me so much with her mental maturity.
"Even other coaches were commenting how she handled the whole competition -- the way she stayed loose, the way she warmed up."
Duel at 5-8: Gorski knew right away that her high jumper was focused, and it began on the trip to Dayton.
For Bland to secure the title, she had to defeat Defiance senior Sarah Mallett in the finals.
"I was like, 'She's more experienced than I am,' " Bland said of Mallett. "I felt second place coming. I just kept positive, and my coach helped me out."
After Bland and Mallett each cleared 5-7, the duel continued at 5-8. Both missed on each of their first two jumps, before Bland made the third one count.
"The last couple of practices we worked on her last step to the bar being short and quick, so she could plant and get up in the air quicker," Gorski said.
That practice paid off, because Bland executed the jump at 5-8 and Mallett missed to end the competition.
By herself: With her teammates cheering from beyond a fence and Gorski watching her every move, Bland executed 5-9 without any competition.
"I know she has the physical talent to do what she's doing," Gorski said. "I knew she had the potential to go 5-8, 5-9 this year."
Bland, who stands 5-8, said one of the main reasons she has participated in the high jump is to help her vertical leap for basketball season.
But she said her goal now is to reach the 6-foot range, and she'll have three more years to do just that.
"I just compliment her for the way she's handled everything," Gorski said. "You could see it the whole weekend."
While Bland was celebrating her title, the Spartans' 4x800 relay of freshman Brittany Durkin, junior Gina Mavrikis, freshman Sarah Grabert and sophomore Monica Cuevas was finishing eighth in 9 minutes, 36.39 seconds.
In other Div. I finals, Austintown Fitch junior Marian Steele placed 12th in the discus (118-10), while Canfield junior Lindsay Cobey was 14th (116-3).
Warren Harding junior Mike Simpson placed 14th in the long jump (19-63/4 ).

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