Messalonskee standout Jesse Labreck gets some air while taking flight in the long jump at a 2008 meet in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo

Editor’s note: This is the ninth installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

OAKLAND — When Jesse Labreck graduated from Messalonskee High School, she left some of her equipment for the next generation of Eagles track and field athletes. Those used items became holy relics. To touch something that had been used or worn by Labreck was to touch greatness.

“We had kids who were like, ‘I’m jumping in Jesse’s spikes,'” former Messalonskee track and field head coach Scott Wilson said.

Messalonskee’s Jesse Labreck sprints toward the finish line during of the 200-meter spring during a 2008 track meet in Winslow. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

Before she set records at the University of Maine and before she was an American Ninja Warrior star, Labreck was as dominant an athlete Maine high school track and field has seen. If anyone had any doubts of that, Labreck crushed them on June 7, 2008.

That day at Windham High School, Labreck set three state records, and went home with four individual titles. Labreck actually left Windham that day as the owner of four state records, falling just short of breaking her own record in the 300-meter hurdles, set the previous year at the 2007 state championship meet.

“It was a nice, sunny, hot day,” Lebreck said in a recent phone interview. “I was exhausted at the end of the day.”

That day, Lebreck set state marks in the 100-meter hurdles (14.48 seconds), high jump (5 feet, 9 inches), and triple jump (38-4). Labreck ran the 300 hurdles in 45.22, just off the record 44.92 she ran as a junior.

Labreck was coming off a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship meet in which she won each of her events and set conference records in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and triple jump. She was the clear favorite in each of her events that day.

Labreck obviously had natural abilities that she worked hard to fine tune. That said, Messalonskee did not have a track at the time. Most of Labreck’s practices came on the dirt path surrounding Messalonskee’s Veterans Field.

“We were in sneakers, measuring out hurdles every time,” Labreck said.

Added Wilson: “We had to gather old high jump mats. She’s jumping into two mats that don’t even match. One’s three inches higher than the other.”

Wilson had no grand plan to motivate Labreck for the state meet. She didn’t need it. Labreck remembered Wilson’s pre-meet words to her as basic, solid advice. Don’t get nervous, and do what you usually do.

Occasionally, a coach might need to reset Labreck’s mental approach with a quick joke. Hey, you’re shoe’s untied or something just as silly. The laugh or smile that came would put Labreck back in the frame of mind to compete, Wilson said.

“That kid could turn on the focus faster than any kid I’ve ever seen,” Wilson said.

At that record-breaking state meet, Wilson watched Labreck step away from the triple jump runway to cheer on teammate David Currier as he ran past in the boys 3,200 meter race. With that task complete, Labreck flipped her inner competitive switch and made her state record jump.

The triple jump was Labreck’s final event of the day.

“I remember being pretty tired,” she said. “I knew I had to jump well to solidify the record.”

Labreck’s first win of the day came in the high jump. The event went on as she ran a preliminary heat in the 100 hurdles. When it came time for the 100 hurdles final, meet officials delayed it a few minutes. Labreck was going for the state record in the high jump.

Jesse LaBreck dominated the Class A track and field championship meet. Morning Sentinel file photo

With a large crowd gathered to watch, Labreck set the state high jump record, then walked, barefoot and sipping from a water bottle, to the starting line for the 100 hurdles. Wilson remembered watching Labreck wish the other runners well as she put on spikes and got read for the race.

Labreck actually broke the 100 hurdles record twice that day, running a record 14.77 seconds in her preliminary heat before blowing that mark up with a 14.48 in the final. With her run in the final, Lebreck beat Deanna Wilbur of Bangor by almost a second and shaved close to a half second off the previous record, 14.95 set by Thornton Academy’s Nicole Motil nine years earlier.

Labreck’s favorite event varied from meet to meet. Her favorite happened to be whatever she felt best in that day. In the 2008 state meet, Labreck felt good in everything.

That doesn’t mean Labreck wasn’t pushed. In the 300 hurdle final, Cony’s Bethany Dumas, a familiar KVAC rival, stayed with Labreck for much of the race, and led as they made the turn toward the final 100 meters.

“I was thinking, I’d better get in gear or I’ll lose,” Labreck said.

Labreck’s records in the 100 hurdles and triple jump still stand as the best in Maine history, regardless of class. Labreck’s 300 hurdles record fell in 2011 to Peyton Dostie of Bonny Eagle, who reset it at 44.67 seconds. In 2018, Westbrook’s Nyagoa Bayak claimed the high jump record with a jump of 5-11. Wilson thinks Labreck would have dominated any event in which she competed.

But you’re only allowed four events per meet, so Lebreck’s dominance was held in check by the rule book governor.

“She could’ve run any of the events, and probably won them,” Wilson said. “My first year coaching was her sophomore year. You look back and you realize how special she was. As a first-year coach, you just think, yeah she’s good.”

Messalonskee standoutJesse LaBreck was the 2008 Morning Sentinel Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year. Morning Sentinel file photo

The New England championship meet was held a week later at Thornton Academy in Saco. Labreck won both the hurdle events, placed second in the triple jump, and sixth in the high jump.

“Whenever I went outside of Maine, I was never as confident. There were more athletes from bigger schools. Especially coming from a school with no track,” Labreck said.

In college, Labreck competed for the University of Maine. She left the Black Bears with four individual indoor records, four individual outdoor records, and three outdoor relay records. Labreck won 12 America East Conference individual titles and was inducted into the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

Now, Labreck garners national attention on “American Ninja Warrior,” the show the tests competitors physically and mentally as they try to complete a rigorous obstacle course. She lives in Naperville, Illinois, where she manages Ultimate Ninjas Gym. The job gives her a place to train and promote her sport.

Like many things during the Covid-19 outbreak, “American Ninja Warrior” is on hold.

“I would actually be competing today,” Labreck said Monday afternoon. “We’re hopeful it’s just postponed and we reschedule.”

Labreck’s brother, Lance, recorded his sister’s efforts at the 2008 state meet and the New England meet the following week. Labreck has those recordings on a DVD.

“Every once in a while, when I’m cleaning, I’ll find that CD and pop it in,” she said.

A dozen years later, Labreck’s dominance that day is still clear. Anyone who saw her compete doesn’t need to watch a DVD to spark memories.

 

 

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