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Hills East's Soledad Jean and her track and field competitors face different challenges this season

Half Hollow Hills East track athlete Soledad Jean

Half Hollow Hills East track athlete Soledad Jean works out in preparation for the COVID-19 shortened 2021 season in Dix Hills on Wednesday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

With three consecutive girls high jump state championships under her belt, Soledad Jean will have to embrace a new challenge as she returns to high school competition this winter — the harsher elements.

While the winter track and field season is traditionally held indoors, this year’s version will take place outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"For me, I really dislike the cold," said the Half Hollow Hills East senior. "It’s honestly going to stink, but it’s not that bad, because last spring we did have our fair share of cold meets. So it’s just going to be an adjustment that I can’t really change anything about. I’m just going to have to live with it as best as I can."

A number of public schools throughout Long Island will look to get back into championship form after last competing in March prior to the cancellation of the subsequent spring and fall seasons. Included amongst these girls programs are defending Suffolk large schools champion Bay Shore and reigning Suffolk small schools champion Mt. Sinai. Massapequa, Hewlett and North Shore lead the way in Nassau as last winter’s Class A, B, and C champions, respectively.

"Outdoors will certainly be challenging and is not one of the best opportunities," Hills East coach Brian Strack said.

Certain meets, however, will allow field athletes to compete alongside their teammates at their home gyms and have their records sent to the events’ administrators to determine the winners.

Jean touched on the kind of adjustments that will be required in order to excel in an environment that will seem unusual as it features indirect competition without athletes from other schools in attendance.

"It’s definitely going to be different," Jean said. "I’ve never really fully done anything like that before. There have been meets where coaches can’t be in the same area and have to be in the stands, so it’s hard to communicate.

"But this is definitely different. I’m going to have to watch myself and be very aware of what I think I messed up on and make an attempt to focus more than I usually would."

Strack noted how a lack of in-person competition won’t be the only thing Jean misses.

"She genuinely cheers for her competitors to do their best as well," Strack said. "In fact, she goes out of her way to help them. When she sees a flaw or a slight correction she can help them with, she’ll assist them. And she’s as excited for their PR as she is her own."

Without an opportunity to aim for another state title this season, Jean’s primary focus is to continue setting even greater standards for herself by surpassing her personal best jump of five feet, eight inches at last winter’s state championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

"As far as my own events, I would say that I definitely want to jump 5-8 again, and hopefully set a personal record in any way," Jean said. "Any PR is a good PR. So I don’t think I have a number goal right now, but I’m just hoping that I have a good season. I’m still going to work as hard as I normally would even with everything going on right now."

Strack said a unique drive to process new information about her craft and immediately utilize it has helped propel Jean throughout her journey in becoming the top girls high jumper in the state.

"She’s insatiable when it comes to learning about her event," Strack said. "She consumes it and then applies it instantaneously, better than any other athlete I’ve ever worked with.

"It’s just remarkable. That natural ability to apply the simplest of corrections can result in two-inch increments of height. It’s her openness to receiving that feedback that makes her exceptional."

Jean said intramurals helped her remain in shape and prepared her return to the varsity stage. As she looks toward the outset of the upcoming season, she’s grateful for the long-awaited opportunity to do what she loves once again.

"I’m just hoping that we get to do a lot of the meets that we usually do," Jean said. "Even with some restrictions, at least getting to compete is an option right now."

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