PICKERINGTON — For the second consecutive weekend, Galion’s Caleb Branstetter and Jonathan Alder’s Joey Walker went head-to-head in the finals of a high jump competition.
At the Division II, Region 6 championships at Lexington High School, it was Branstetter who emerged as the victor, clearing 6 feet, 6 inches to match a personal record. Walker topped out at 6 feet, 4 inches at Lexington.
On Saturday at the OHSAA Division II track and field championships, Branstetter and Walker reversed roles with Walker claiming the high jump state championship in a tight competition. Walker cleared 6 feet, 8 inches to win the event. Branstetter’s top height was once again 6 feet, 6 inches, and gave him the runnerup medal.
Branstetter said the road to becoming an All-Ohioan and the state runnerup definitely wasn’t a smooth one, though.
“It was a beautiful day out today, clear skies, but I was just putting myself through an emotional roller coaster,” Branstetter said. “At 6-5 and 6-6, I waited until my third attempt to clear it. That was just the competitive side in me. I had to get it.”
Branstetter easily cleared the bar at 6 feet and 6 feet, 4 inches, but needed two attempts to get past 6 feet, 2 inches. As he stated, getting by 6 feet, 5 inches and 6 feet, 6 inches to set up the showdown with Walker didn’t come easily.
With the bar set at 6 feet, 8 inches for the final round, Walker put the pressure on by clearing the height on his first attempt. That was the opposite of the regional final when Branstetter went over 6 feet, 6 inches on his first attempt and Walker was unable to match it.
“I was this close (holding his thumb and index finger close together),” Branstetter said regarding his three attempts at 6-8. “I just had to hold my hips just that little tenth of a second longer and I had it. I would’ve got second either way, but I would’ve just loved to have had it at the same height. But it was just an amazing experience and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
As they did at the regional meet, Branstetter and Walker engaged in some gamesmanship at the state championships. At Lexington, Walker initiated the ploy of passing on a height. They both passed on attempting 6 feet, 5 inches and went straight to the final height of 6 feet, 6 inches. The move worked out well for Branstetter.
On Saturday, they both opted to skip 6 feet, 7 inches and go directly to 6 feet, 8 inches. This time it worked out in Walker’s favor.
“At regionals, there was a little bit of beef,” Branstetter said with a grin. “He did the same thing at regionals, skipped from 6-5 to 6-6 because I was struggling at 6-4 and waited until the third jump to clear it. At 6-6, I cleared it on the first try. I knew what he was doing (at the state meet). He wanted it. But I was happy for him.”
Branstetter said he was content with his performance on Saturday.
“There’s no looking back,” he said. “You can’t be mad at yourself. It won’t work out. Especially if you’re not even going to run track again, you just gotta be happy with what you did and how you performed. Be happy with yourself.”
The strength of the athletes from the Lexington regional was on full display at the OHSAA state meet as three of the four qualifiers from Region 6 won medals. Vermilion’s Ayden Bath, who placed third at the Lexington regional, also finished third at the state meet. His best effort on Saturday was 6 feet, 5 inches.
Branstetter said while he was disappointed that the 2020 season was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it gave him the chance to develop himself mentally and physically.
“It really upset me, but it just pushed me to work really hard by myself and push myself during those few months when there was nothing going on,” he said. “I pushed myself, doing push-ups, sit-ups, developing my body, doing box jumps, just doing everything I could to get my body to peak performance. I don’t think without it I would’ve pushed myself as hard and I wouldn’t have had the same mentality as I do now.”
Branstetter said he plans to enter an internship to become a utility lineman and will work construction until he does. But if the right situation presents itself, he would like to continue his track and field career at the collegiate level.
“I would love to continue track. It’s really fun,” he said.
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