By Joe Scalzo
Over the last two months, Fitch senior Jay Jakovina developed a fear of heights.
Namely, that he wouldn’t reach them.
After topping out at a school record-tying 6 feet, 10 inches in the high jump during the indoor track season, Jakovina battled bad weather — and bad dreams — during the first half of the outdoor season.
“It was haunting me in my dreams that I wouldn’t get back up there,” he said.
Then, at Saturday’s Optimist meet at Fitch High School, the temperatures rose and several school records fell.
Jakovina cleared 6-101/4 — erupting in celebration while still on the mat — and the Falcons’ 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays both broke school records to help Fitch finish third in the team standings.
The Falcons led by 7.5 points until the final event, but opted to rest their best 4x400 runners (including Jakovina) in order to be sharp for Tuesday’s All-American Conference meet, ceding the trophies to Hudson and runner-up Lakewood St. Edward.
When asked if he had any regrets, Fitch coach Rich Kempe shook his head and said, “Nope. You’ve got to be smart.”
Fitch was also without junior thrower Billy Price, who opted to attend a football combine in Columbus instead of taking a run at the Optimist discus record. But, for the first time this season, the Falcons had their four best runners in the 4x200 relay — and it showed.
Running against some of northeast Ohio’s top talent, Fitch’s Joe Harrington, Tarise Wolfe, Rob Venters and Nathan Bowlen finished in 1:27.93 to crush both the school (1:28.79, set at last year’s state meet) and meet (1:29.17, by Canton McKinley in 2005) records.
That time was just a half-second off last year’s state-winning time.
“I wanted someone out there to chase but once we got the baton for the third leg, we pulled out in front and never looked back,” said Fitch sprint coach Seth Steiner. “It’s a good thing [to run that fast] because we’re still training pretty hard.
“If we stay healthy, we can do some damage down in Columbus.”
Bowlen, who has battled an MCL injury all season, anchored both winning relays, helping the 4x100 team of Ty’Reese Anderson, Wolfe and Venters finish in 42.41 to break the previous school record of 42.79. (They were just shy of Bedford’s 19-year-old Optimist record of 42.23.)
“It feels good to finally have someone that can run up there with us,” said Bowlen, a sophomore who was celebrating his 17th birthday. “This is the first time we actually ran hard because all the other meets were cold.
“We’re just going to keep trying to get a little better each time.”
Jakovina is taking the same approach, hoping to clear 7 feet before the end of the season. The Youngstown State recruit missed three attempts at that height on Saturday.
“My back was over it,” he said, shaking his head. “I’d feel myself getting happy and then I’d feel my butt hit [the bar] and I was like, ‘Crap.’”
Jakovina said he jumps his best when he’s got competition — “I was rooting just as much for the other guys as I was for me,” he said — which is a good omen considering the district meet is less than two weeks away.
For Fitch’s entire team, it was the type of performance that left them feeling, you know, optimistic.
“It was a very good day,” Jakovina said. “So happy.”