SOUTH CHINA — The sport of track is built around personal bests.

Athletes may not always win their events, but as long as their times or distances are improving every meet, it is generally looked at as a victory.

That is what made the season for Erskine Academy senior Jade Canak so special — she always got better, even though she was already one of the best horizontal jumpers in the state.

“My season felt like it started real slow,” she said. “I was not getting the results I really wanted but it slowly progressed and I finished strong. I was happy with that.”

Her last meet of the spring was the New England Championships, where she jumped 36 feet, 2 1/2 inches in the triple jump and 16-8 1/2 in the long jump — the third and fourth best distances, respectively, in Maine this season. While she settled for second and third in those events, respectively, at the Class B state championships, she did taste gold as a key cog on the Eagles’ winning 4×100 relay team.

For her achievements this season Canak has been named the Kennebec Journal Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year. Kents Hill’s Anne McKee, Cony’s Madeline Reny and Messalonskee’s Amanda Knight also received consideration.

“As a coach you always want to give them new stuff or make them stronger or faster or more flexible or improve their balance and coordination so they never plateau,” Erskine coach Dave Hickey said. “Jade — even though she was performing at such a high level — she never plateaued. She kept improving.

“…She always rose to the occasion on the big events, the big stage, as evident by her placing at the New England Championships the past two years.”

Canak was also a leader, a quality that came through in Erskine’s 4×100 relay.

She and junior Christina Belanger were responsible for the third and fourth legs, respectively, of the relay that featured two freshmen — Jordan Jowett and Abby Haskell — on the opening legs. Even as they faced more experienced teams throughout the season, the Eagles continued to win though.

“That 4×100 relay team whenever Jade was on it, they never lost,” Hickey said. “…She cemented traditions of work ethic, poise, kindness and leadership to a whole new crop of young athletes.

“They have a role model that not only inspires them but gives them that key direction of things that really matter like character and work ethic.”

Like most athletes who seem to find their way to the top, Canak has been working on her craft for some time.

“I actually started when I was in the first grade,” she said. “I grew up in Augusta and they have a feeder program. I started off just doing sprints. Then in third grade I started with jumps and I just loved it.

“I was exposed to it at a young age and I never questioned whether I would do it in high school.”

In the summer before her freshman year, Canak’s family moved to China, and as she readies for another chapter in her athletic and academic career she will once again be moving away to do so.

Canak has committed to compete in track at Division I St. Francis University (PA) beginning in the fall, where coach Doug Hoover said in an interview with the Kennebec Journal earlier this spring that he expects her to primarily compete in the long and triple jumps.

“I’m pretty excited and nervous,” Canak said. “I’m finding out who my roommate is and doing all the final paperwork and I’m going to go to orientation on the 17th (of July). It’s all coming together.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley

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