Irion County's Kaegen James closes career with gold, silver in horizontal jumps

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AUSTIN — Irion County’s Kaegen James knew she was living a dream at Saturday’s UIL State Track and Field Championships and there’s part of her that doesn’t want to wake up from it.

The senior completed her distinguished jumping career with a state championship in the Class 1A long jump and a silver in the triple jump that likely marked one of her last athletic competitions. She went out in glory.

“I’m going to shed a few tears later, but right now I’m happy,” James said shortly after walking off the podium with her triple jump silver medal around her neck. “I’m glad where I ended up.”

“I’ve been nervous, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. After yesterday I kind of calmed down, it’s like, ‘You just have to go do what you do.’ There haven’t been too many nerves, just the ones that you naturally get. I was just ready more than anything.”

That showed early in her first event, the long jump, where she moved into the lead on her second jump then opened a big lead with an effort of 17-feet, 3 1/2-inches on her third attempt.

Irion County’s Kaegen James competes in the 1A girls long jump during the 2022 UIL Track & Field State Championship in Austin on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

That was some redemption after last year’s state meet, where she ended up 1/4 of an inch behind winner Hanna Miller of Woodson, the competitor who beat her in this year’s triple jump.

“It was a relief because everyone had been jumping 16s, high 15s,” James said. “So once I got the 17, it allowed me to breath a little bit. After that, I could focus on what I needed to do.”

For a moment, a repeat of last year’s long jump heartbreak looked destined to happen in the triple jump. After a slow start, James took command of second place but was still chasing Miller. Needing a 37-1 on her final jump to take the lead, her best effort of the day ended up at 37-0 1/4.

The “what-ifs” were short-lived when Miller then jumped 38 feet on her final attempt.

“I was going crazy over there,” James said. “Last year I lost to her by a quarter of an inch, so this year I didn’t want to lose to her by three-quarters of an inch. When she went out with that 38, ‘You deserve it, 100 percent.’

“This whole time at state I was worried that I’d finish up thinking I could do more, so knowing that I ended up with a pretty decent jump, I’m happy with it.

“I wanted to get first, but when there are amazing competitors like this, second is good. Triple jump has always been my favorite, but I had high hopes in both going in. I’m pleased with how it ended up.”

That was true of her day Saturday, and also true of her athletic career, which closes later Saturday when she runs on the Irion County 4×100 relay.

Escamilla grabs silver in high jump

Robert Lee’s Noah Escamilla knew he did something special to make it out of Region I-1A in the high jump and earn a shot to defend his state championship.

Just how special was driven home Saturday when Escamilla set a personal best, matched the previous Class 1A state record, then watched his regional rival, Van Horn’s Elijah Gaines, break that record four more times.

That all left Escamilla with a silver medal he could be proud of at 6-6 — an inch better than his winning jump last year — while Gomez went on to win at 6-10 in a Region I-1A sweep.

“It was a PR (or personal record) so it went well,” Escamilla said. “Seeing we have the hardest region in 1A, it’s pretty amazing. It was a little iffy at first, my shoe was a little torn up, but once I got rolling I felt pretty good.”

Escamilla stayed clean until a pair of misses at 6-6, then got his personal best with a third-attempt clearance. He went out at 6-7 just as Gaines got on a remarkable roll.

Hall pleased with silver

Paint Rock’s Ashlynn Hall tossed the shot 38-8.25 on her third attempt, comfortably earning her the silver medal. She ended up more than two feet ahead of third-place Neihmaya Howard of Klondike and 14 inches behind Nordheim’s Emagen Styra.

“It wasn’t my best competition I’ve done but it was a good way to end the season,” Hall said. “It’s crazy. It means a lot because I never thought I’d get this far at anything.”

Sterling City’s Payton Conner competes in the Class 1A shot put during the UIL State Track and Field meet, Saturday, May 14, 2022, at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.

Conner scores in two events

Sterling City sophomore Payton Conner added to a trophy case that’s destined to get pretty crowded when was a wire-to-wire second place in the discus at 123-5 that marked her best-ever throw. An hour later, the all-state basketball player took fourth in the shot put.

“I had a PR (or personal record) at state, that’s a great place to pr,” she said. “I got a medal, I’m very happy knowing I tried my hardest.”

Paint Rock’s Ashlynn Hall competes in the Class 1A shot put during the UIL State Track and Field meet, Saturday, May 14, 2022, at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.

Johnson enjoys silver-medal experience

Sterling City’s Kas Johnson figured out what it takes to excel at the state meet and turned that into a silver medal in the pole vault.

“Just have fun, that’s what I was doing today,” he said. “Having fun, jumping as high as I can.”

That ended up being 14-3, and he was edged out by Hubbard’s Michael Ryman on a tiebreaker. Five of the nine vaulters in the 1A field were from West Texas and Iraan’s JD Solis took the bronze in 12-9.

The decisive moment came at 14-0 when Johnson had a first-attempt miss. After Ryman cleared that, Johnson passed to 14-3 and made a first-attempt clearance. Ryman responded with a first-attempt clearance to retain the tie-breaker lead, and when neither cleared 14-6, Johnson had his silver.

“Everything was working pretty nicely today,” he said.

Jackson works way to bronze

Bronte sophomore Emily Jackson didn’t have the smoothest of days at the state meet, but she grinded her way through it to earn a bronze medal she was quite happy with.

Jackson had misses at 4-8 and 5-0, but cleared both heights, then was clean over 5-2 when three other competitors went out. That got her on the podium.

“It’s super-exciting,” she said. “I didn’t know what it would be like today, but getting a medal for the first time is awesome. It doesn’t matter that it’s bronze.

“I had a pretty good feeling about it. I had some early misses, but I can just say, ‘As long as I clear the next bar it won’t matter.’ That’s what I tried to do, keep clearing bars to the misses wouldn’t be so pronounced.”

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359;; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: Irion County’s Kaegen James closes career with gold, silver