ITHACA, N.Y. - Faith Penny had never been so happy. And who could blame her? Yes, the East Islip senior had just won a state high jump championship, clearing five feet, six inches Saturday at Cornell. But the championship meant so much more than that.
First, the redemption factor. Penny finished just short of ultimate state glory twice before, one inch shy, both last winter and in the spring of 2013. She had had enough.
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The second factor, however, was far more personal. After having surgery on her right knee in July, Penny only returned to competition in mid-January, she said. While training for the indoor season usually begins in November, Penny had no time to ease into winter competition. Quite literally, she had to jump into it.
"I had to work really hard," she said. "But, I was lucky enough to jump the state qualifying hight on my first jump back. I jumped five feet, three inches my first time back at Suffolk [CC in Brentwood]. So that was pretty good."
Despite the achievement, it still took Penny a few weeks to feel like herself again.
"I felt very awkward," she said of that January return. "I wasn't actually high jumping, I was just leaping. I went to the Armory to jump in The Varsity Classic [on Feb. 5]. I jumped 5-6 and felt like I was back in the game."
And now, as she proudly proclaims to be fully healed, she is at the top of the game.
"This meet was the championship level I've been waiting for," she said shortly after being awarded her medal. "Today, I kept my speed and jumped well. I kept my curve and just went for it."
While Penny dominated the field side of the meet, it was Friends Academy's Paige Duca who took top billing on the track. Duca won the 1,500 meters in 4:36.42. As the bell lap began, Duca gritted her teeth and made a strong move past Abby Wheeler of Elmira. Wheeler finished second in 4:39.49.
"I gave it everything I had," Duca said.
Duca, who spent her first three season's at Sacred Heart before transferring to Friends Academy before cross country season, entered the meet without an indoor state title.
"Last year, I got fourth at indoor states," she said. "Two of the other girls in that race were seniors, so I knew I had a shot."
Duca said this year's edition went out fast.
"I was toward the middle of the pack up until the 800-meter mark," she said. "That's when I started to pick people off. People started dying a little, so I picked it up."
Duca committed to Boston College in November. Wanting to get a head start on mentally preparing for the atmospheric change that college brings was part of the reason she made the switch to Friends Academy, she said.
"I wanted to see how I would do," she said. "I think I'm pretty prepared."
And now, she's a champion.