SKOWHEGAN — Now, Skowhegan Area High School senior Leah Savage is a three-time Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference high jump champion, and a two-time conference triple jump champion. Then, Savage was a 9-year old kid running around the gymnastics gym, and Dave Evans saw so much track and field potential.

“I said, ‘Leah, when you get to high school, you need to do track, because you’ll be great at it, kid,'” said Evans, then Savage’s gymnastics coach and now track and field coach at Skowhegan. “I didn’t have to push her. She was a pretty willing student.”

On Saturday, Savage will compete in the triple jump, long jump and high jump at the Class A state championship meet at McMann Field in Bath. Before practice Wednesday, Savage said she was unsure where she was seeded in each of her events. She had not checked, and did not plan to.

“I just try to think about how I’m doing and how I want to do. Going in (to the meet) I look, but up to then I just practice,” Savage said.

For the record, Savage is seeded sixth in the high jump with a jump of 5 feet, 2 inches; seventh in the triple jump (35-4.25); and after fouling each of her attempts at the KVAC meet last Saturday, 16th in the long jump (15-4.5). The triple jump is Savage’s best event, but it’s also arguably the most competitive of the three. Last season, a jump of 35 feet netted competitors a top-three finish at the Class A meet. With seven athletes seeded with a triple jump of at east 35 feet, that distance might not be good enough to get on the podium Saturday.

“I think she’s capable of going 36 feet. If she does, she’ll be right there,” Evans said. “In those state meets, anything can happen. The weather, who comes in ready to perform. It’s like a new season all by itself.”

Savage first participated in track and field as a freshman, and then-jumping coach Matt Friedman immediately put her in the three jump events.

“I didn’t know I was doing well until people told me,” Savage said.

As a sophomore, Savage placed second at the state meet in the long jump, and third in the triple jump, behind winner and Skowhegan teammate Maddy Price. Competing with Price every day in practice helped Savage become a better jumper, she said.

“We’ve had great jump coaches. We had Matt Friedman, and we have Jim (Goodwin), who is very, very knowledgeable. They work hard with these kids. You look back at the last six, seven years, our jumpers are some of the best jumpers in the state,” Evans said. “(Price and Savage) were good teammates together. They made each other better.”

When Evans watches Savage jump, he sees the same attributes which made her a good gymnast.

Skowhegan’s Leah Savage stands where the triple jump runway and pit meet at the high school on Wednesday. Savage is a contender for the Class A triple jump title. Staff photo by David Leaming

“You know as well as I do, it’s God-given abilities, then you throw in 12-13 years of gymnastics,” Evans said. “Leah always led the gym in anything we did for strength. Being flexible, being athletic and a gymnast… The triple jump, long jump and high jump are made for her.”

The hop and skip before the jump of the triple jump can be difficult to master. Learning the form was another chance for Savage’s gymnastics background to shine.

“It looks hard, but I was a gymnast, so it wasn’t hard to me,” Savage said. “It’s all second nature now.”

Savage doesn’t have a standard pre-jump routine. She doesn’t listen to music or sit alone in an attempt to find focus. Instead, she mills about the runway, watching the other jumpers and making small talk.

“I try to stay relaxed. I try to be very friendly. I like to know what they’re doing,” Savage said.

Big meets such as the upcoming state championship and last week’s conference meet do not trigger nerves, Savage said.

“I like having the pressure. I do a lot better in the big meets,” she said.

It wasn’t pressure that got to Savage at the KVAC meet last Saturday, it was the weather. Rain fell during much of the meet, making conditions cold and wet. Savage won the triple jump with a jump of 33-0.5, more than two feet lower than her Community Cup winning jump, 35-4.25, the week before. Savage’s KVAC-winning high jump, 5-feet even, was two inches off the 5-2 she jumped to win at the Community Cup.

“It was cold and rainy. I do not do well in the cold at all,” Savage said. “It was scary, honestly. There were puddles on the runway.”

The forecast in Bath Saturday is more favorable, with afternoon sun and temperatures in the mid-70s. Evans likes Savage’s chances to have a good day.

“I don’t think Leah’s had her best jump meet yet,” Evans said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarzykMTM

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