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By MATT JOCKS | preps@pe.com and ERIC-PAUL JOHNSON | ejohnson@scng.com |
PUBLISHED: June 10, 2022 at 3:07 p.m. | UPDATED: June 10, 2022 at 3:08 p.m.

Alyssa Hope’s junior season started a little slowly on the approach. It built up speed about halfway down the runway before launching into a powerful takeoff.

And what a landing.

The star jumper from King High who had just turned 16 and started the season trying to build her confidence not only ended it as a CIF State champion, but she blew away an elite field in the state triple jump final. Hope took five jumps that counted, and they were the five top marks of the day.

Just to add an exclamation point, Hope took second in the long jump, setting a school record of 20 feet, 4 inches. Hope joined Olympian Tara Davis as the only girls to top 40 feet in the triple jump and 20 feet in the long jump at a state final.

King High School junior Alyssa Hope has been selected as the IE Varsity girls track and field athlete of the year. Hope won the CIF state title in the triple jump and finished second in the long jump. Riverside on Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

King High School junior Alyssa Hope has been selected as the IE Varsity girls track and field athlete of the year. Hope won the CIF state title in the triple jump and finished second in the long jump. Riverside on Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Her high-flying state meet capped a brilliant season that has earned Hope the IE Varsity girls track and field athlete of the year honor.

The finals performance in the triple jump typified Hope’s style. The winning mark was 40-2 3/4, but all five legal jumps were within a combined range of just 8 1/4 inches.

“It’s very rare,” King coach Mat Vasel said of Hope’s consistency. “Look at the other top jumpers, and they will pop off those big jumps here and there. But to hit that level consistently, over and over, is just nuts.”

Hope competed in track and field as a youngster, stepped away from it to concentrate on volleyball, then returned a couple of years ago. She has some track and field in her blood, her grandfather having been a college teammate of Carl Lewis and her mother having competed at Canyon Springs.

She also has a predisposition to hard work and taking her craft seriously. When Vasel raves about Hope’s consistency, she doesn’t always see it the same way.

“If you look at videos of me,” she said, “at the end of almost every jump, I’m always shaking my head because I think I just did a terrible jump.”

Confidence, Hope said, was the biggest hole in her game when the season began. The COVID disruption to the early part of her career took a toll, forcing her to watch track videos at home when she wanted to have the feeling of landing in the dirt.

Strong finishes in prestigious invitationals stamped Hope as a state contender. The confidence gained pushed her to a higher level.

“In the beginning, I would get in my own head,” she said. “Now I really feel at home out there. It’s just fun.”

Vasel points to the Mt. SAC Relays as a turning point. Hope’s consistency had meant that she had typically hit good marks on her first jump or two, relieving the pressure. That wasn’t the case at Mt. SAC.

“When you pop off your first jump, that’s great,” he said. “But what happens when you scratch or your mark is off. How do you respond and not let that affect the goal you’ve set for yourself.

“Then you pop off the fifth and sixth jumps and you have that experience. You get to CIF and get in a hole and you know you can get out of it.”

Vasel said there is still room for growth in Hope’s game, pointing specifically to her landings where she often loses a few inches because of her leg placement. And he continues to have an eager student.

“I was telling my mom, ‘Can we just start jumping again?’ ” Hope said. “I hate being home doing nothing.”

MATT JOCKS

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The triple jump event in track and field is a technical, difficult combination of speed, dexterity and strength.  To be good at it, you need equal parts of all three skills.  Sprinting down the runway at full speed, the athlete leaps, bounds and then jumps into a pit of sand.

Alyssa Hope (Jr) has been doing that really well all season and on Saturday night in Clovis at the 102nd Annual California State Track and Field Championship, she did it better than all others and won her, and King’s first ever individual State title in track and field.

Alyssa became not only King’s first to win outright, but almost pulled off TWO individual titles.  In the long jump, her second event of the weekend, Alyssa would finish in 2nd place.  Runner up is a great accomplishment, but her season-long assault on the 20 year old school record in the Long Jump finally succeeded.  Gayle Hunter’s 20’ 1/2" King High record had stood unchallenged for two decades but Hope finally took it down on Friday night in the preliminary rounds with a 20’ 3.75."

She fouled on her first attempt, “which scared me a little bit,” she said afterward.  But the record fell on her second attempt.  It was a full 7 1/2 inches better than her previous PR, an astounding improvement at already elite marks.  “Everything was kind of a blur,” she recalled, as she left the pit thinking her jump had been “terrible.”

“So imagine my surprise when they said 20-3.75!”

The confidence gained would be needed in just 24 hours as she would be tested in the Finals on Saturday by Sydney Vanek of Clovis High.  Vanek landed a 9 inch improvement of her own to win, while Hope essentially matched her feat of Friday with a quarter-inch improvement at 20’4".  Second place stings a bit, but is still a great achievement, broke a 20 year old school record and set the stage for the Triple Jump.

There in the harder of the two events, Alyssa was unchallenged on Saturday, despite finishing second to Jada Gatlin of Mission Viejo in Friday’s preliminaries. The preliminary round takes the field down from 26 to 12 for Saturday’s Final, and it was in the prelims that Gatlin bested Alyssa by 7 inches.  That was an advantage that likely seemed insurmountable going into the Final.

But when it counted on Saturday night in the Finals, Gatlin amazingly fouled on every attempt and recorded not one mark.  Gatlin’s missteps opened a huge door for Alyssa to jump through.  Hope would proceed to land 5 legal leaps beyond 40 feet; each one would have won the event on its own.  Her best of 40’ 2.75" won the day.

On Sunday Alyssa reflected:  “As my season comes to an end, I’m happy with what I accomplished.  I couldn’t have done it without [jumps] Coach Byrd.”

Alyssa was not alone at the State meet, as five King athletes qualified for the rounds. On Friday, Isaiah Butler and Aidan Sos combined in the Unified Sports division of the shot put.  While the division is in only its first season at the State level, the two throwers combined to beat 2 tandems from two other schools to win. “I’m really proud of them,” said King coach Mat Vasal.  “They improved all year.  On the last throw, Aidan needed a PR in order to win and he did!”

Sophomore Jaden McKee got his first taste of the State meet in the pole vault.  While he did not have his best round (he capped out at 14’ 5") and did not move on to the Final on Saturday, he nonetheless gained valuable insight that will be useful in the coming two seasons where making State might be more of an assumption than a dream.

Sarah Ajayi had a solid preliminary round in the 100 hurdles, finishing just a fraction off her best ever mark in the event at 14.89.  It finished her 13th overall of the 26 who qualified with the top 9 advancing to Saturday’s Final.  Sarah is only a junior, so, like Jaden and Alyssa, her plans for the 2023 season have certainly elevated.

The CA State Meet is one of the most competitive high school track meets any state in the union puts out. It is rivaled only by Florida and Texas for its ability to annually put out incredible depth and talent in every event.

For King’s own Alyssa Hope, Aidan Sos and Isaiah Butler, they proved that they are leaps and bounds better than all contenders and arrived back in Riverside as King High’s first-ever State Champions.

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Posted by King Track & Field at Dec 29, 2021 2:10PM PST
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