Jyles Etienne was well aware of what was happening. The Stony Brook senior high jumper, who plays basketball in the winter, read the newspaper clippings, keeping tabs on the event that he loves so much, even though he was currently spending his time rebounding and blocking shots.
What he read was pretty remarkable. Daniel Claxton, the Smithtown East indoor state champion and Etienne’s chief competition in the spring, had cleared 7 feet at the Ocean Breeze Invitational on Jan. 28, becoming the first jumper in the state to soar that high since 2005.
It was an outstanding accomplishment, one that Claxton credits with starting the spiral of success that led to a second consecutive indoor state championship in early March. And through all of it, all Etienne could do was read about it and think about the spring season.
“I was happy for him,” Etienne, who is a native of the Bahamas and came to the Suffolk boarding school before his sophomore year, said. “But of course it fired me up. I heard the news and trained to do that, too. It didn’t scare me, though. I know I can clear 7 feet, too.”
But now that basketball is finished — with Stony Brook losing in the state Class C semifinals March 18 — Etienne can get back to what he truly loves, high jumping, and focus on defending his state title before leaving to jump at Indiana University.
“It’s very important,” Etienne said of his state championship last spring. “It’s one of the biggest titles I have. I also want to go undefeated this year. That would be real good.”
But Claxton, who placed second to Etienne in the outdoor state Federation championship last year, wants his piece of the pie before heading off to UConn.
“I want that spring title more than anything this year,” Claxton said.
That competition is what will make the high jump pit one of the more interesting areas of the track at any meet this season where those two are involved. The two have a mutual respect for one another, knowing that the presence of one only pushes the other to higher heights. After all, winning by 5 inches gets old after awhile.
“When I’m in a competition without [Claxton], usually the second-place guy is way down,” Etienne said. “So whenever he’s in the competition, he pushes me to jump. I always am happy to jump against him.”
“It’s really cool,” Claxton said of the budding competition between the two. “I met him for the first time last year and everyone was talking about this guy that was going to come in and possibly take my spot at No. 1. I wasn’t mad, I was looking forward to seeing him at a bunch of meets. We split the meets 50-50, he beat me sometimes and I beat him sometimes. I’m just looking forward to seeing how we’re both going to do this year.”
Besides that coveted outdoor state title, the two have their eyes set on another milestone — a familiar one to both of them, but in different ways.
That magic No. 7.
Etienne cleared 7 feet, 1⁄2 inch at the Carifta Games Trials yesterday, coach Daniel Hickey said.
Claxton cleared 7- 1⁄4 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals — his final meet of the winter season — but has never hit the height in spring competition.
“I want to do that again because I haven’t done it outdoors.” Claxton said. “Then maybe I could break an overall PR and try to go for that 7-1 or 7-2.”
Etienne wasn’t shy about his goal, either — 7-3 which would tie the state record set in 2001 by Albany Academy’s Dan Olson, according to tullyrunners.com.
This rivalry doesn’t lack for much. Least of all, confidence.