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After Further Review: The mark of a true champion

After Further Review: The mark of a true champion

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The best athletes are never satisfied.

Sometimes, that internal resolve makes all the difference between mediocrity and greatness.

Enter Alaysia Oakes, the Heritage High track and field star.

At the Region 3C Championships last week, the junior, who already has captured four individual state titles and two team state championships, entered the national conversation when she recorded a 40-foot, 5-inch mark in the triple jump.

Strong enough for the region title. Good to set a new school record. Also, one of the best marks in the nation.

Oakes is now ranked No. 3 in the U.S. in the triple jump. Her leap is also the 18th-best in Virginia high school history.

It’s a personal record by nearly 2 feet, and it was no fluke. Oakes started garnering state titles when she was a freshman. She’s been this newspaper’s Athlete of the Year for track and field twice now. And after having her sophomore outdoor season canceled because of the pandemic, she’s emerged full of devotion to her craft, working out, lifting weights, hoping to peak at the right time.

The only question is: has she peaked? Certainly doesn’t appear that way. Wouldn’t bet on it.

“I’ve been waiting for this and I’m ready to keep climbing higher,” she said during a workout this week.

She’s not talking just about the triple jump. Oakes also is currently ranked ninth nationally in the long jump (19-3.5). Her teammate and friend, senior Tya Blake, is ranked eighth in the U.S. in the triple and 18th in the long jump.

Blake set a new PR by 1 foot, 10 inches, with a 39-10 runner-up finish in the triple jump on Wednesday. The two standouts have pushed each other for years and made each other better in the process.

“Its like the best friendly competition because we both love each other to death but we both are fierce competitors,” Oakes said of Blake. Both Division 1 recruits have set the serious marks despite dealing with nagging ankle injuries this winter.

But while being among the best nationally is impressive, it’s not quite good enough for Oakes. She’s shooting for more. And that’s the sign of a true champion: grateful for her ability but always striving to reach new heights.

That much was evident in the region finals of the 300 dash Wednesday. She finished third with a 42.94. Good enough to qualify for the state championships, but nowhere near the time she has in mind. Last indoor season, for example, she won the 300 title after being seeded second, with a 41.18.

“That’s not happening again,” she said out loud after the race.

To be fair, the 300 was held outdoors that day, as running events moved from inside the Heritage fieldhouse as a precaution against the coronavirus. That difference, coupled with the cold weather, factored into the day’s results.

“I kind of let all those external factors get to me before the race,” Oakes recalled. “The state [meet] will be a different story.”

Speaking of the state meet, it’ll be held March 2 at Liberty University, the same location Heritage celebrated the team title and Oakes claimed three events (the 55 dash, 300 and long jump) one year ago.

She’ll compete in five events this year: the 55, 300, long jump, triple jump and 4x200 relay. Shawn Webb, Heritage’s sprints and jumps coach, said it would be a mistake to count out Oakes in the 300, an event in which she’s seeded second.

“I hope everybody doesn’t think [the region 300 finish] is the end of the road, because that definitely isn’t her mindset,” Webb said.

The national triple jump mark puts every other athlete in the state on notice (if they weren’t already by this point): the girl from Heritage sitting on the throne is only getting stronger.

“It’s like, what else can she do?” Webb said. “What’s next? There’s absolutely something that’s coming next, and there’s really no ceiling for her right now.”

Webb was, in part, referring to Oakes challenging the all-time state girls mark in the triple jump, which stands at better than 42 feet.

That’s a real possibility, because she just improved by almost 2 feet Wednesday.

For Oakes, this season has been about playing catchup. Trying to get back to where she once was and then surpass those personal bests. “And now I’m back,” she said.

In a big way. And not going away anytime soon.

“I try to go into every event with a championship mindset,” Oakes said. “To compete and be grateful for the experience.”

But she won’t be content until she’s the best there is. Judging from Wednesday’s performance, those days aren’t far off.

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