Benefield: SRJC high jumper reaches new heights as state champ

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The question was a simple one: Was it all worth it?

Santa Rosa Junior College freshman high jumper Waisea Jikoiono was driving with his teammates to dinner after becoming just the ninth state champion in Bear Cubs track and field history, when a teammate turned to him and asked him point-blank: “She said, ‘Tell me honestly, try not to think about it, tell me straight: Is this feeling worth it? Worth everything you have been doing?’ ”

“For a second I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know,’ ” he recalled. “But then I thought back to how much work we put in in the offseason and preseason and weight room and I was like, ‘This is very much worth it.’ Just that feeling of knowing you are the best of all community colleges? It’s amazing.”

Jikoiono, who prepped at Montgomery High, cleared the 6-feet, 63/4-inch bar on his second attempt at the California Community College Athletic Association state championships at San Mateo College on Friday while his rival, Trey Pierce from Diablo Valley College, missed all three of his attempts. Clearing that height made Jikoiono the new state champ.

But it wasn’t a straight shot to the top step on the podium this season. And it was never a gimme. Jikoiono took off in the early season like a shot, clearing the state qualifying mark and for a spell being the No. 1-ranked jumper in the state.

But Pierce from DVC was jumping great as well. Pierce had beaten Jikoiono at the Big 8 Conference Championships and again at the NorCal finals. He was on a roll.

“Me and him, we have sort of a rivalry,” Jikoiono said. “I think of him as a good competitor because he pushes me to be better.”

But Pierce had been the better jumper of late, when it mattered most.

“He beat me at Conference and at NorCal,” Jikoiono said. “At NorCals and Conference, I was sort of focused on trying to beat him. I was thinking, ‘He’s the new state leader, I have to beat him.’ ”

But that is not the mindset that lets the innately positive Jikoiono thrive. Sure, he’s a competitor, SRJC track coach David Wellman said, but it’s not all outwardly focused.

“He’s more for the enjoyment of the competition, not so much beating people,” he said. “He likes to see people jump big things; it gets him fired up.”

So Jikoiono tried something different for the state meet.

“When I came to state, I thought, ‘I’m just going to jump for myself and try to PR (personal record) and whatever happens, happens,’ ” he said. “I’m just going to jump for me.”

And in doing so, he jumped into a place in Bear Cub history.

With his best leap, Jikoiono soared into the record books. He became the ninth state champ in the history of the SRJC track and field program and the first ever in high jump.

Jikoiono had zero idea he was in such elite company.

“That’s amazing. It’s just an amazing feeling,” he said. “This is what we’ve been working for all season.”

At state, Jikoiono missed his first try at the 6-63/4 mark. Watching the day unfold, Wellman said that when Jikoiono cleared it on his second attempt, he knew his guy had it in the bag.

“Waisea was ultra-focused,” he said. “He cleared two meters and I knew right there, this is it.”

And it was.

But remember the Jikoiono-as-competitor part? A guy who likes to compete with himself?

Jikoiono was already the state champ, the competition essentially over. But as the winning leaper, he was invited to put the height where he wanted and give it three more leaps, just he and the bar.

He asked for the bar to be raised to 6 feet, 83/4 inches. It would have been that PR he was so wanting. He had the crowd clapping for him. But he failed to clear it.

“I really wanted to get that PR,” he said. “I was pretty bummed about that, but I guess I’ll take the good with the bad.”

And he’ll take this, too: Jikoiono, who was born in Fiji and didn’t move to the United States until his sophomore year of high school at Montgomery, was pulled up to the Fijian national team and will compete this summer in the South Pacific Games in Samoa.

“Back in high school the Fijian Nationals would be aired live on TV and growing up I used to watch,” he said.

Those guys he used to watch on TV and idolize? Guys like sprinter Banuve Tabakaucoro and triple jumper Eugene Vollmer? Jikoiono will be training with them within weeks.

“It’s kind of crazy,” he said.

And he plans to make it a working summer. Wellman encouraged him to walk away with every bit of training knowledge and workout advice he can. This experience could be a boon for a guy who hasn’t nearly hit his ceiling in the sport.

“I definitely feel like they could help me in a lot of ways,” Jikoiono said. “I expect to come back a lot better than I am.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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