Q&A: Cassidy Jenkins looks for gold in her final chance

Cassidy Jenkins of Lakeland has been on the of the top 100 meter hurdles in AA for the past three seasons. She has two top five state finishes and has made it to states all four years. This season, she has the 2nd best time in AA and is looking to finally top the podium for the first time. Jenkins answered some questions for us about the upcoming state meet

Having qualified for states all four years of high school, how have you managed to stay so consistent in all 4 years?

Each year I've progressed little by little. Each year I've gained more drive to achieve my goals. Each year I've learned extra things to do that really help with form and just staying race ready. It is really all thanks to my coaches. They keep me calm and determined. They especially stress staying healthy more than anything. I'm always getting yelled at for trying to run a little more or forget to take days off. After sophomore year leagues I strained both my quad muscles... I thought I was done for. Sitting in physical therapy that summer was when I finally realized overrunning myself was not helping at all. I started to follow everything my coaches said---no matter how much I wanted to keep doing more. They keep me in check with my limits and make sure I peak at the right time. Luckily the past 4 years I've run my best times around leagues or districts to get to states. Each year presents a new test because of weather. My freshman year I had perfect weather, sophomore and junior year almost as nice. Sadly this year I had about 4 regular season meets plus one invitational before leagues. It stressed me out way too much because I didn't think my times would be even close to where they needed to be. My coaches ensured me not to worry and to trust the training. Basically to stay consistent, TRUST YOUR COACHES!!!

The 100 meter hurdles appears to be your strongest of the two hurdle events. What do you like about it the most? What about the event gives you the most success?
When I started track in 8th grade I didn't do 300 hurdles toward the end of the season so I spent all my time focused on 100 hurdles. I think that alone gave me the extra liking to them. It is a perfect fit for me because I hate worrying about change. I've never run two identical 300 hurdle races. I don't count steps and don't have a set leg to go over each hurdle with. My 300 hurdle races could be best compared to my bedroom--- an absolute mess and all over the place. While in 100 hurdles nothing changes - start the same, take the same steps, have the same form, finish the same. Of course some races everything happens faster but overall it is constant. I know exactly what will happen and if something goes wrong I can figure out how to get back on track. That came in handy the past two years at states when I hit hurdles in the semifinals (sophomore year) and finals (last year). There are pictures from each of those races that I can laugh off now, but those pictures also showed what I did wrong. I've drilled so hard to keep my form looking good and especially hard to find the right rhythm. I love the feeling of looking down the track and seeing the rows of hurdles. It makes the race feel so surreal because it looks never ending... if never ending was about 15 seconds. The best part of the race is that it is only 100 meters. Let's get real here every track runner actually has a love-hate relationship with running and sometimes I just hate running those extra 200 meters for 300 hurdles.

Have you taken extra time this season to improve on your 300 meter hurdles after two appearances in the state finals with 8th place finishes? What are you trying to improve?
Yes yes yes yes yes and yes!!!! Of course I was happy with making finals two years in a row, but I wasn't very content with my placements both years. So this season I focused mainly on 300 training. I did more workouts to create a base of stamina and speed. December into February was a lot more running than I've ever done... it was actually horrible (my inhaler was my best friend). I've been working on my opposite lead leg and trail leg because frankly it was a train wreck combination. 300 hurdles is a mind game to me. I tend to second guess myself when approaching a hurdle causing me to stutter or trip up. Stuttering takes up so much time... if I stutter to all 8 hurdles that time really adds up. When my non-dominate leg comes up to go over, I get so nervous. 300 hurdles allow time to think between each hurdle, which makes me think way too much about what is going on and just ends up a disaster. This year I'm hoping to get over these hurdles (no pun intended) and place higher than my previous two years. As of right now, I feel like I'm on the right track (seriously I don't mean to make these puns). I need to keep focused when 300s comes around and do everything in my power to make it to Day 2. Thanks to the ridiculously amazing competition the AA girls bring to the track, hopefully I'll PR in my last few HS races. I'm hanging onto the 300 hurdles as long as I can before college adds an extra 100m for me.

After finishing 3rd at states last year, you have your best chance at state gold next weekend. What have you learned from coming close to winning the last two years? What do you need to do to finish on top?
I've learned not to let your emotions get the best of you. Track and field is a severely mental sport. The littlest things would bother me ruining the rest of my races. I would be so upset and wouldn't speak to anyone. Even before races I would let my nerves get the best of me and be caught sitting the blocks watching everyone else go over the first hurdle. You have to remain calm and run your race. By now I've run what seems like 10993839 races but nothing compares to the feelings of a state final. Anxiety is on high and everyone can feel the tension. When the officials are calling you in during check in, it starts to hit you--this is it...this is your last race of the season. I start go through my race in my head, trying to just picture what it is like to run the perfect race. Getting to finals is one step... Finishing on top is something earned throughout several steps done during the season. This is my last chance to taste gold and that itself is giving me the extra spark I need.

What do you love the most about track?
Although a seemingly individual sport, track creates a huge family. No one is left behind. It is a great feeling knowing you have a group of people to go back to after a race -- no matter the outcome -- that will support you and be proud. Running with good friends makes the workouts a little less harsh and lets you know you're not alone in these 600s. It builds friendships that will last a life time even with people you may only see once a year at states. My favorite track friendship is with a pretty famous PIAA AA name, Emily Lelis. This season she's been beyond supportive even though we are roughly 6 hours away. She truly inspires me to become a better runner. Track has given me the confidence I lacked while growing up. It has taught me to be thankful and cherish every fraction of a second because we all know those fractions can make or break a smile.

Where will you be competing in college next year?
Next year I will be running for Cornell University!!!!! I'm so honored to be a member of such an amazing team. The track and field program at Cornell is full of great pride and tradition which excites me even more. Everything about the school is just perfect for me... Ithaca is "gorges." It reminds me of home and luckily is only 2 hours away from my home town. Two other girls from PA, Kat Quigley and Olivia Young, will be joining the team with me! Hopefully we will represent PIAA well the next four years. I couldn't be happier to be going to such a great academic school. I'll be majoring in biological sciences to hopefully work with prosthetics.

What do you love about the state meet?
What's NOT to love about states!?!?! You get to miss school, spend 3 days with your team, and run in front of thousands of people. Thursday and Friday night the dorms are a party -- every athlete is out making friends and playing volleyball. You meet so many people it is unreal. There's no negativity. Everything is just a relaxing fun time. When it comes down to the actual running part of states, I still can't find any complaints. The stadium fills and adrenaline builds. The track is magic... PRs fall and records are shattered here. States is what I look forward to every season without a doubt. I may be more excited for States than graduation. J