Breana Gambrell walked onto the runway at the 2015 PIAA Championships seeded four inches behind the defending AA girls long jump champion three years her senior. She walked off it a freshman state champion, taking the state jump scene by storm and commanding respect in her new-found position atop the PIAA.
"She just kind of shocked everyone," said her father and coach, Ben Gambrell.
Since that first state title, which she won with a jump of 18-04, Gambrell's career has taken off. The Athens Area senior earned her fourth consecutive the AA girls long jump championship Friday with a leap of 19-11 (a PIAA meet record), holds the overall state record of 20-8, won a triple jump state title last year, and will continue jumping for Penn State in the fall.
"I didn't think four years ago when I came in as a freshman that I would end up winning four straight long jump titles," she said. "It's crazy and special-not too many people have done that."
Not too many, indeed. Gambrell's win on Friday puts her on an exclusive list of four-time gold medalists in an event, including most recently Bloomsburg's Jahvel Hemphill in the AA boys 100m, Connellsville's Madison Wiltrout in the AAA girls javelin.
Gambrell-whose older brother Jarred, the triple jump state meet record holder in 50-01.75, inspired her to start jumping-said that her early success has benefitted her competitive attitude.
"My mentality now is a lot stronger. I didn't really focus on it as much back then," she said. "And I attribute that partly to having that target on my back, people always wanting to take me down because I'm the top seed, so you have to be mentally ready for that. So competing at these high level competitions is good for that."
Breana Gambrell (left) with her father and coach Ben Gambrell
Along with her mentality, Gambrell's raw talent has been refined as well, with her deciding to take it upon herself to put in the time to improve technique-wise, her father said. The dynamic between the two has also developed over the last four years.
"It's a relationship of trust. Dad first-the disciplinary stuff at home. But that also relates to athletics too. With the development of that trust between the both of us and all the kids, it's easy to talk to them, it's easy to coach them, it's easy to push them," Ben Gambrell said. "Of course they push back sometimes, that's what all teenagers do, but it's that level of trust and respect that we can have that give and take that helps us both grow in our relationship as father-daughter and coach-athlete."
Gambrell will have a full day tomorrow. She will attempt to defend her triple jump title, lead her team in the 4x100 finals, and try to pull off a legendary upset of Girard College's Thelma Davies in the 100-meter dash.
But regardless of how she fares on those fronts, Gambrell has made her mark on this meet, solidified an indelible spot in PIAA history. She is a four-time long jump state champion.