Malito leans on experience at district meet

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Girard senior Mia Malito (right) edges out Pymatuning Valley's Rowen Jenkins in the 300 hurdles, one of three events Malito won during the district round.

CORTLAND – Blue skies and a sunny afternoon made for a pleasant scene for the Division II district meet at Lakeview High School, a far cry from the dreary weather experienced throughout much of the spring. Following the meet, schools such as Girard, Champion, Niles, Liberty, Pymatuning Valley, Lakeview, Youngstown East and Hubbard are sending athletes to the regional round next week.


Girard senior Mia Malito came into Saturday’s competition having already won the high jump title on Thursday at 5-0, then earned two more event wins with a mark of 17-0 during the long jump and a nail-biting 300 hurdles victory by .03 seconds at 46.43.

Malito helped the Indians place second in the 4×100, clocking a 48.84 alongside Airianna Clardy, Laiyah Pappa, and Khloe Pieton. She is seeking her fourth trip to the outdoor state track meet heading into regional action next week.

“It’s been a long day, it took a lot of preparation. Our 4×100 ran really well, it’s really exciting going into next week and I think all of my events look promising. I just have to get there and compete,” Malito said. “The ending (of the 300 hurdles) is real important. I’m tired, but my coach pushes me at the end, I really had to push myself and give it everything I had.

“It’s adrenaline, but it’s hot out, so I’m making sure I’m getting into the shade, drinking a lot of water and putting my feet up when I can to just push myself.”

Now as her final go-around as a senior, the role isn’t just to qualify for the biggest stage again, but also mentor and help guide some of the younger athletes on Girard’s squad.

“It helps. I definitely have a lot of experience, but now it’s my senior year, so I need to use that experience to get there, compete to the best of my ability. Work really hard next week to try and make it to state and do my best. I just try to stay positive, pushing them in practice. Before meets and before races, just making sure they’re paying attention and giving it their all.”


Pymatuning Valley senior Rowen Jenkins began Saturday’s running events in style, clocking a time of 15.892, .005 faster than Streetsboro’s Olivia Johnson-Wilson, to earn a victory in the 100 hurdles. She’d later go on to place second in the 300 hurdles, .03 seconds behind Malito, to advance to regionals in two events.

The achievements in both events came after falling short of the regional round last year, missing the 300 hurdles cut by one spot. Jenkins had previously made the regionals as a sophomore when the Lakers competed in Division III, but now eyes a potential trip to Dayton.

“Basically, I prepared for this all four years, I’ve been trying to get here. This week felt totally good for the prelims, after I got first in those, I was like the pressure is off, just come out and run my race and see what happens,” Jenkins said. “It feels awesome, to make it to a D3 regional, and now D2, stepping it up and still making it, I’m just very happy.

“It definitely pushes me a lot. I PRed in both races yesterday and in the preliminaries, so it definitely pushes me a lot.”

With some new personal bests in tow, along with earned confidence, the sky’s the limit next week with the opportunity to book a trip to state on the line.

“It definitely gives me the confidence knowing I placed second here and first in the 100 hurdles, that I can go and that I am good enough to be there.”


On her first throw of the afternoon, Champion senior Kennady Grace sent the tone early, marking a 120-9, which would be plenty good enough to advance to finals and win the discus event.

Having found a spot on the podium last June in Columbus at the state meet, the journey to find some of that success is back on heading into regionals.

“Now, I have a lot to work on but now I know what I need to work on and hone down on for regionals next week,” Grace said. “120 isn’t one of my best throws, so I was really trying to push for a better one, today just wasn’t that day, that just makes me more eager to pop one off next week.

“(State) gave me some confidence to build up for this year going into my last year, to know that I can really pop one off when I need to and at regionals last year. I really didn’t have a good throw until my last throw, so it gave me confidence that even when I’m under pressure and not having a good beginning meet, that I can pop one off when I need to.”

Discus is such a difficult and technical event, so much can go well — or wrong — with the slightest adjustment. That makes raising the bar that much more challenging, something that Grace appreciates.

“I really just hone down on my technical work, my dad really helps me on my technical work. We go down basically every single day as long as we need to. Recently we’ve been doing three-pound throws, so one night I went down and threw around 70 throws of three pounds in the ring. I just hone down on getting stronger and refining my technical work.”


Dwayne Moody is another athlete very familiar with what the path to state has in store this time of the year, running in the 200 finals last June and placing ninth for the Leopards in Columbus. Saturday afternoon, he earned a handful of tickets to the regional round with the 200 (22.03, second), 100 (11.09, third) and the 4×100 (43.24, fourth), along with Brandon Benson, Tawann Tutwiler and Brayshawn Hicks.

In the midst of his chaotic day, he included a 4×200 that Liberty finished fifth in at 1:31.18.

“Honestly, this is just one step of many. I know that (100) definitely wasn’t my best race, I didn’t get out as hard as I could have. I still qualified, but I was looking to get first,” Moody said. “Once you mess up your block start, it’s all mental from there. It’s either, I’m going to try and catch them, but at the same time it’s only a 10-11 second race, so that one second of messing up coming out of the blocks can mess up your whole race honestly.

“I wouldn’t say the experience helps with the nerves, I really just say it’s about running. Once you start running, you’re not nervous anymore. It’s just like, ‘I got to go, it’s now or never,’ so you’re not thinking that you’re scared or nervous.”

Pacing is key to competing in four challenging events in a fairly short time span of just over two hours, but Moody is just thrilled to represent the Leopards when it matters most.

“I’m very proud, obviously everybody doesn’t get to make it to this point, let alone to the state meet. I’m blessed and I’m honored, and I appreciate Liberty for putting me on the stepping stool to do great things.”


Lakeview junior Thomas Easton has had a long school year that began on the gridiron, but the time to slow down isn’t here yet for the Bulldogs sprinter. Their 4×100 squad took gold, clocking a 43.07 with Landon Hall, Sam Harper and Noah Engle to move on, but that was after the trio of Easton, Hall, Harper, alongside Oniah Russo placed fourth during the 4×200 at 1:30.50.

Easton missed the cut in the 100 and 200, placing fifth in both, but was just pleased to be competing on his home track after losing most of his season due to illness and injury. Two years ago as a freshman, he helped Warren John F. Kennedy hoist the bronze medal at state, and now the opportunity to help the Bulldogs do the same is on the table with regionals looming.

“We had the 4×200, we made regionals, but we didn’t have the results we wanted, and we used that and we said we’re just going to rally together. It came down to our handoffs, and we had everything perfect and it showed. We came out and got the dub,” Easton said. “Being at home, it gives us this sense of what we’re used to, everything around here is ours and we said we just have to keep it and protect it, we didn’t want anyone to walk in here and take it over.”

It wasn’t just a couple of meets that Easton has missed, it’s been a few months that included a two-week stay in a hospital.

“I just told them to keep pushing, I didn’t know if I’d be back for districts, but God stuck with me and I’m here. The feeling of coming back and having the success I had after missing all of this time, I feel like I got rewarded for everything I put in, so it feels great.”


Niles senior Makiya Simpson won the 100 (12.40), 200 (25.77), and 4×100 (48.74), with Aniyah Marsh, Madison Nickels, and Cali Rodgers…..Lakeview junior Jadon Warner won the high jump at 5-11…Girard senior Anthony Bengala won the 300 hurdles at 40.70…

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