PHOTO BY ANGEL MELENDEZ
Classical’s Elie Kalambayi grabs a handful of sand from the triple jump pit at the New Balance Outdoor Track and Field Nationals championships in North Carolina.
By KATIE MORRISON
It’s been quite the spring for Classical junior Elie Kalambayi. The track and field standout has been breaking triple jump records left and right all season long; not just his own personal records, but the school record as well. He got the chance to show off his skills on the biggest high school stage in the country, as his distance in the New England Regionals earned him a trip to the New Balance National Outdoor Track and Field Championships this past weekend.
Kalambayi jumped for 43 feet and seven inches in the triple jump Friday at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, N.C. Classical coach Angel Melendez and Kalambayi weren’t satisfied with the performance, especially after Kalambayi reached 46-6 3/4 during the New England Regionals. The jump was good for 25th place out of 43 participants.
Melendez says that Kalambayi was a mix of nervous and excited leading up to the jump.
“I think he was trying to focus since he found out, just focus, focus, focus,” Melendez said. “Even yesterday coming out ot the meet. He looked good in warmups, but once he started, it was a whole new experience for him. I think the same thing happened last year at the state level.”
Kalambayi said the trip to nationals was “an amazing experience,”
“It was fun, and it was really hard. It was crazy at first,” Kalambayi said. “I started enjoying it, seeing the competition, because the kids are really good. It motivates me, and now I want to push harder because I realize that this is the biggest stage there is.”
Part of the adjustment in jumping at nationals was the sheer amount of eyes on him.
“There were about 1,000 people,” Kalambayi said. “It’s my first time being in front of so many people.”
The hot weather also may have been a factor.
“This was my first time in the south,” Melendez said, “and given the climate in the north, the heat kind of caught us off guard.”
While the experience was brand new for the Classical junior, it was also new to Melendez, who took over the head coaching position for the Rams this season after Ryan Hathaway stepped down after seven years. Melendez had been coaching alongside Hathaway for five years.
“I want to thank him for getting me ready for this, he taught me how to be a coach made my job easier,” said Melendez.
The coach also wanted to thank the people who made the trip to North Carolina possible.
“It’s thanks to (Classical athletic director) Billy Devin and (Classical principal) Mr. (Gene) Constantino, and Senator (Thomas) McGee worked a lot for us to get us here in the short span of time we had to get ready to come to nationals,” Melendez said. “A lot of people were involved in helping us out, and everyone that donated money and time, we want to thank all of them, and the Classical family for giving us their support.”
Melendez also got some guidance from Lynn Tech track coach John Hogan, who has taken students to the national championship for the past couple of seasons.
The national competition isn’t just a place to compete with the best in the country; it’s also filled with scouts and recruiters from colleges from all over.
“I talked with a couple of college coaches from Division I schools, and I got a feel for what they’re looking for in an athlete, what’s required to get a scholarship,” Melendez said. “There are so many recruiters there, they’re sitting next to me and I’m talking to them, not realizing they were recruiters.
The trip to nationals has also had another effect on the team as a whole. Melendez said that the other members of the Rams have noticed what Kalambayi has accomplished and are using it as their own motivation.
“I feel like one of the best things is that he’s motivating and inspiring other kids on the team to push more,” Melendez said. “They see how he went to nationals and they get excited about next season.”
The next focus for Kalambayi is competing in the Bay State Games, the regional qualifying meet for which is next weekend at Bishop Fenwick High School.
“He’s really motivated and really wants it,” Melendez said. “He’s not happy with the way the season ended this year, he’s happy about making it this far but not about how he finished.”
That’s motivated Kalambayi to dedicate even more time to track. He’s planning on doing indoor track for the first time next winter, and Melendez is working on developing a training plan for Kalambayi for the summer.
From there on out, the ultimate goal is to get back to the New Balance Nationals. Having some experience on that stage will be beneficial to Kalambayi next season.
“It’s really going to help me because I know what’s here and what to expect,” Kalambayi said. “This year, I’m not satisfied the way it ended up, but it’s pushed me to work harder in the winter.”
Melendez and Kalambayi have already set a goal when it comes to distance as well: over 50 feet.
“A minimum of 51 feet. He wants to do 52, and I think he has it in him,” Melendez said. “I think we all have to remember he’s only 16 years old, and this is only his second track season ever doing this. From last year to this year, he’s grown and learned a lot, and next year we’re not going to be working on fundamentals, but keeping everything intact and getting stronger, making sure his legs are healthy.”