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East grad Bowers stars for YSU

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jahniya Bowers of Youngstown State wins the 60-meter dash Friday at the YSU Collegiate Invitational.

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s hard to believe, but after 320 days Youngstown State’s track and field programs are back competing.

The interior of the Watson and Tressel Training Site looked a little different on Friday compared to when YSU held the Horizon League track and field championships last March. Gone is the large group of competitors huddled within the grassy turf.

Instead of multiple events going on at once, the pole vault, jumps and throwing stations remained idle, while sprinters and distance runners showed off their speed and endurance on the track. The field athletes had to wait until later in the day.

With a maximum capacity of 250 people under COVID-19 protocols, the WATTS looked sparse, but 14 schools sent a delegation to YSU on Friday to compete in the YSU Collegiate Invitational as the Penguins began shaking off their rust.

One of the stars of the afternoon hails from Youngstown East, as YSU sophomore Jahniya Bowers took the crown in the 60-meter dash with a mark of 7.57s — a time that’s currently the fastest in the entire nation.

If anything, she’s thrilled to be back on the track.

“It’s very different, it’s very challenging being with masks and different protocols,” Bowers said. “But I’m still able to manage and pull through and do my best.

“I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned from year one to year two is my confidence. Like, I’ve learned to keep my mental game together and be stronger to help my race.”

She had a stellar freshman campaign last season with the second-best 60m dash time in school history at 7.38. Current YSU senior Jaliyah Elliott owns the school record of 7.25 and fellow sophomore and high school teammate Knydia Matlock owns the seventh-fastest at 7.56.

Last March, Bowers helped the YSU women’s program claim its 10th indoor track title and fourth in a row.

“A couple days throughout the week, every week, I was still practicing to maintain, with everything going on, to keep my body in shape,” Bowers said.

Sprinters coach David Townsend, also a graduate (1975) of East, views the importance of representing the local area.

“My priority, just like Coach (Jim) Tressel said, it’s the ‘State of Youngstown,’ recruiting that 50-mile radius. We have some great student-athletes in this area and my job, to me, is that if they want to stay home, we’re going to keep them home and they’re going to do everything they would do at Ohio State, Penn State, or any of those places.”

Besides Matlock, other local sprinters include Collin Harden (Girard), Jamynk Jackson (Valley Christian), Tobias Hayes (East), Antonella LaMonica (Kennedy),and Mara Wilson (Lakeview).

Townsend said he’s seen big growth in Bowers from her freshman to sophomore campaign.

“She’s more consistent with her practices,” he said. “She is just working hard. Coming out, we haven’t practiced a lot, but that’s pretty good for her first meet.”

Coaching during the pandemic has also led to a new set of challenges.

“More anxiety, more uncertainty, with that comes commitment,” he said. “The thing is, you never know if you’re going to be here today or shut down tomorrow, so everything is day-to-day.

“The kids are going through it well, you see everything going on, and it’s just hard to focus, with people all over the country having the pandemic, and everything running through this. But it’s a testimony to their dedication and their willingness to be great students and great athletes.”

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