COLUMBUS — Last year, the nerves of the state meet got to Molly Stecker, according to her coach and dad, Dave Stecker.
Not so in 2019, as the Hudson rising senior took second in the Division I high jump, clearing 5 feet, 8 inches. The state track and field meet concluded Saturday at The Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
"This was so exciting," the elder Stecker said. "Her goal was to break the school record this year, which she did with a 5-8, and to get top-five podium. She crushed that by getting second."
Maybe the nerves were present early, per Dave Stecker.
"The nerves got to her, (she) had a little bit of a slow start, but (she) definitely recovered this time," he said. "The key is the last three steps and speed in the last three steps and the lean. She just didn’t have the speed earlier on and then she hit her groove."
Stecker certainly believed she redeemed herself after a subpar performance for her standards at the 2018 state meet. She finished a disappointing ninth with a leap of 5-4.
"That was not a good day," Molly Stecker said. "Ever since then, I just worked so much harder and trained the right way. Last year, I got weaker when I got to the state meet. This year, I got stronger."
The thing about Molly Stecker, though, is even when she’s not in her groove, she’s still one of the best in the state. Nerves or no nerves, top speed in the last three steps or not, the Explorers’ junior sailed early. Even if she wasn’t jumping her best, she still hit 5 feet and 5-2 on her first two tries, including a gorgeous arching jump over the 5-2 bar.
"She has a lot of power, so when her approaches are perfect, she can really power over it," Dave said. "That’s what kind of got her the 5 feet, 5-2, but again, then she got her steps and her speed down at the third 5-5 (attempt), which then she started cruising."
Indeed, after some trouble at 5-4, which she cleared on her second attempt, there was more stress at 5-5, which she cleared on her third and final attempt, to secure a top-four finish.
Stecker really got going as the bar got higher.
She flew over 5-6 on her first try and hit 5-7 on her second attempt.
"It was quite dramatic in the end there because she had some misses at some previous heights and it gets more and more difficult because you lose energy jumping so much," Explorers head track and field coach Jeff Hildebrand said. "She had to overcome the challenges of missing those previous heights to go on and continue jumping well at the more challenging heights, but she did."
When she hit 5-8 on her first jump, she briefly held a potential tiebreaker over defending state champion Emilia Lesniak of Strongsville, who absorbed her first strike of the day at 5-8. Ultimately, Lesniak jumped an inch higher, with Stecker bowing out at 5-9 and Lesniak clearing 5-9 on her first attempt before bowing out at 5-10.
"She’s amazing," Dave Stecker said. "She’s beautiful in the air. Her form is just amazing."
He couldn’t help but smile.
His daughter was the state runner-up and the state champion was a jumper deserving of the honor.
"(Lesniak’s) jumps are amazing," Dave tecker said. "How she approaches and her technique are amazing, plus she’s the nicest kid in the world, too.
"She’s always very polite. Just always coming up and saying hello, congratulations to everything. It’s fun to have competitors that just get along that well and are just so nice to each other."
Molly Stecker, who started jumping in seventh grade, credits her father, a former standout jumper at Villanova University in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, for her success.
"I love having him for my coach," she said. "He’s well-informed to know that it takes weightlifting and running to train properly."
She also had to learn the right technique. That was a bit of a problem when she first tried the sport five years ago.
"I couldn’t get over 3-6," Molly Stecker said. "I was jumping off the wrong foot."
Molly Stecker accounted for eight of the Hudson girls’ nine points at the state meet, with sophomore Brenna Beucler providing the ninth with her eighth-place finish in the 1,600. The Explorers finished in a nine-way tie for 69th place.
Pickerington Central easily won the 78-team competition with 87 points.
Molly Stecker plans to take the summer off and then focus her attention on the indoor season.
While she enjoys her summer break, the talented leaper will have plenty of moments to reminisce about her spectacular season.
"I want to give my body a break from jumping," Molly Stecker said. "I’ll start back in the fall. I set a goal for myself to place in the top five, so I was really excited to finish second."