Off to Villanova! Mt Alvernia high jumper heads to US-based university


Off to Villanova! Mt Alvernia high jumper heads to US-based university

Observer West writer

Thursday, July 09, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James -After starting track and field less than four years ago, being offered a full scholarship to attend Villanova University, near Philadelphia, USA, is more than a dream come true for Mt Alvernia high jumper Roschell Clayton.

The former netball player, who only started track and field in February 2017 while in grade 10 at Montego Bay High School, has come a long way since, and has high hopes as she gets ready to continue her education and track and field career at one of the best institutions in the United States.

Her track and field career started innocuously as with very little, if any, preparation she jumped 1.45m to place sixth in the Class 2 high jump at the County of Cornwall Athletics Association (COCAA) Western Champs held at St Elizabeth Technical in her first-ever competitive outing.

She said she was initially preparing for the long jump, but the evening before her first track meet, her coach informed her that he had signed her up for the high jump as well.

“My only training for high jump came from YouTube videos that I watched the night before the meet. In the end, I qualified for high jump A-standard for the ISSA Girls' Champs,” she told the Jamaica Observer West.

Weeks later, she was at one of the world's most demanding high school championships and her improvement continued when she made a massive jump, clearing 1.60m in the preliminaries at Champs before placing 12th overall. But, the journey was only just getting started.

Clayton, who had nine distinctions in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) including mathematics, English A, English B, IT, Spanish and physical education, as well as four in CAPE - Spanish, literatures in English, sociology and Caribbean studies, said she was happy for the opportunity to attend university in the US.

“I was extremely excited, for I always wanted to study abroad and be closer to my siblings,” she said, adding that it was nevertheless not a decision that was easy to make.

“My mother and I actually made the decision for me to go overseas after a long discussion. My older siblings immediately agreed because they currently reside in the US, so they want me there as well,” she pointed out.

Clayton was sixth overall in the Caribbean in sociology unit 1 and seventh in Jamaica in literatures in English Unit 2 in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), and scored a more than decent mark in the Scholarship Aptitude Test (SAT), despite not giving it priority attention.

“My SAT score was 1,080, which is my own fault. I could have done much better, but I did not give it my best shot; nevertheless, I am grateful,” said Clayton.

At Villanova, she says, she has enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, through which she will pursue a psychology and Spanish degree.

She told the Observer West that she had other scholarship options, noting that she got offers from the University of Technology and McMaster University in Canada.

“My final decision was 'Nova' for I was offered a full scholarship and I believe that they have more than enough resources to help me improve along the way. Not only do they [thrive] in sports, but the academic field as well. Not that the other schools didn't offer those, but another main contributing factor is the influence and close proximity to my siblings,” she argued.

At Villanova she will be coached by Anthony Williams, a Jamaican who ran track at Jamaica College, she informed, adding that as it is a Division 1 school, she expects it would have more advanced facilities that aid training.

“They have an excellent athletes' health centre that takes our well-being very seriously. As a result, most of their athletes excel in both the academic and sport fields,” she argued.

While at college, Clayton says her main objectives will be to “maintain a balance between my sports and academics”.

“I hope to improve drastically, leading to new personal bests while getting my degree. I also hope to reduce my anxiety [because], as an introvert, this affects my performance at track meets,” she added.

Speaking with coach Williams and others at Villanova, she said, gives her a lot of hope.

“They have been extremely welcoming, but what I was basically told to expect is rigorous training, lots of travel, hours of studying and a fun experience overall. Villanova is widely known for its welcoming and friendly group of residents,” she pointed out.

While she had high hopes of doing well at Champs this year, she said she had no regrets when it was cancelled due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. “I completely agree with ISSA's decision to cancel Champs, for the continuance of such a popular event would have been too great of a risk. My heart goes out to all the athletes that had plans of achieving new personal bests, for I was one as well. However, we must thank God that we live to see another day,” said Clayton.

She added that during the COVID-19 downtime she kept active.

“Despite the setback, during the pandemic I took the initiative to continue training in my neighbourhood by utilising the hills in the scheme and creating programmes to complete daily,” she noted.

Clayton, who had set a height of 1.80m as her goal for this year, said her coach at Mt Alvernia High, Andrew Henry, had “very high expectations of me, that I made really good attempts at the height; however, my plans like everyone else's were postponed due to the virus”.

Moving to Mt Alvernia from Montego Bay High came at a good time for the Paradise, Norwood resident.

“I was encouraged by Mr Henry to attend Mount Alvernia for sixth form in order to join their track and field team. I enjoyed my last year at MBHS (Montego Bay High School) with current coach Miss [Carlene] Robinson; however, I've also enjoyed the past two years with Mr Henry,” she said.

“Although I left MBHS, coach Robinson still assists me in any way possible. Both coaches have greatly contributed to where I am today, and I am extremely grateful. It's nice to have people that want to see you succeed and they'll push you past your limits to ensure that you do,” she said.

Going to Mt Alvernia, she stressed, “opened my eyes to serious training. Before attending Mount Alvernia, I never ran a day in my life, not even for sports day. I was placed on a 400m programme, which was one of the hardest things I had ever done. For the first few months, I wasn't able to finish my programme, usually I'd be out of breath after the first lap. I remember Mr Henry continuously asking 'how is it that you're able to jump so high, yet your legs are so weak?' Eventually, I was able to complete my programme, I made a new personal best and I'm able to clear certain heights with little or no effort,” she explained.

The highlight of her high school career, she said, came last year when she broke the Class 1 high jump record at COCAA Western Champs, clearing 1.72m to beat the old mark of 1.70m set in 2014 by former Herbert Morrison jumper Sashane Hanson.

“That was the first day I actually competed with confidence and the outcome was very shocking for me. On that day, coach Henry told me that he wanted me to aim at breaking the record. I thought it was an impossible task, but when it happened, I realised that I needed to stop doubting myself,” she said.

Finishing third in the high jump at CARIFTA Trials this year, though, she said, was a big disappointment.

“I knew that I could have done better, but like other athletes, we all have our bad days,” she reasoned.

The winner at the CARIFTA Trials was Herbert Morrison's Daniella Anglin, who had beaten her at Western Champs three weeks earlier, and broke her record, jumping 1.75m.

Clayton said she was off her form at Western Champs that was held at Rusea's High in Lucea.

“I only attended three track meets for the season and I was not training due to personal issues; however, I managed to place third and was nonetheless happy with my placement,” she said.

Anglin is one of the athletes, she says, she looks up to.

“I admire her in all her sporting events for she is naturally gifted and has the potential for greatness. During my track meets, whenever she's present, I'd speak to her as a way of calming my nerves. I'm not the most sociable, so I do not talk with many of the girls I jump against, but whenever I speak with Daniella, I'd feel better for she always has a fun and lively spirit that I hope to adopt,” said Clayton.

Apart from netball, which she said she played from she was nine years old, Clayton said she tried playing basketball for her high school team.

“I played basketball for a short period in high school, but our matches were like that of netball, for the entire team was made up of netball players; dribbling was not our best skills,” she noted.

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