Jackson's Patibandla shines at state track and field championships

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Leena Patibandla of Jackson won the girls discus during the Division I District Track and Field Meet at Hoover on Friday, May 21, 2021.

JACKSON TWP. – The Jackson boys and girls track and field program sent a solid contingent to the Division I state meet in the greater Columbus area, spanning relays, hurdles and field events.

Among that group, two Polar Bears had especially solid weekends, with hurdler D.J. Harris delivering four points for the boys team and sophomore multi-event specialist Leena Patibandla tallying five points for the girls. Patibandla’s outing stood out in part because she recorded her points in two very different events, one of which she took up just this season.

With a fifth-place result in the high jump and an eighth-place finish in her newest event, discus, she put herself in a unique group of competitors to place in both a throwing event and a jumping event.

“I'm super impressed with myself with the discus because it’s something new I just picked up this past year and I feel like I have so much room to improve,” Patibandla said. “I definitely had an adrenaline boost going back and forth between high jump and discus.”

She noted that during the season, there isn’t consistent competition in her events from meet to meet, so battling the best in the state provided the sort of challenge that a true competitor enjoys. Patibandla, who is also a key player for Jackson’s basketball and volleyball teams, has been on big stages before, but the state track meet was an individual effort as opposed to the team environment of a basketball game.

Massillon Jackson's Leena Patibandla competes in the high jump during the Division I State Track and Field Tournament on June 4, 2021, at Hilliard Darby High School in Hilliard, Ohio.

“For sure, I feel like my competitive nature between all of my sports helped push me to a place where I could turn up the intensity,” Patibandla said.

She pointed to breaking her own personal best in the discus on her second throw, then bettering that immediately with a throw of 121’4” to secure eighth place in the event.

In the high jump, she cleared 5’5” despite having cleared 5’4” only a few times previously. Putting together two of her personal bests in the state meet left her, to say the least, excited.

“I was actually very stoked about how I did because I wasn’t seeded very highly in both events going into the competition, but I came out strong,” she said. “I’ve been doing the high jump since the seventh grade, but I just started doing discus this year.”

Part of the state meet experience was having Harris, the members of the girls’ 800-meter relay and distance runner Kailey Zagst as part of the group that made the trip south. Patibandla noted that as a field event specialist, she’s often off doing her own thing and at the state meet, she had a chance to spend time with her teammates the night before the meet as they had dinner and hung out prior to competing.

Not every team sends multiple athletes to the state meet and being able to have teammates not only on hand for the event, but competing as well, was a positive experience for Patibandla. The end result was a pair of top-eight finishes for the sophomore, who has two seasons left to build on both her strong performance in the high jump and her solid start in the discus.