January was an excellent month for Lansing girls track and field. The team placed second at the Section IV Championships with individual victories in five events along with a relay victory. Then, senior Catalina Zaloj capped the month off with a bang, earning the number-one ranking in New York state for the current season in the high jump with a score of 5’7”.
Zaloj pulled that off at the Hurley Invitational at SUNY Cortland on Jan. 24. She broke a school record of 5’5” that she set last year (which broke Kendra Moody’s record that stood since 2002). Zaloj described how she felt during the jump.
“Things felt right that haven’t felt the same all season, even since outdoor [track in 2019],” she said. “I haven’t been hitting the heights I’ve wanted, and it finally just clicked. It felt smooth.”
Heading into the season, Zaloj had high expectations for her final year as a Bobcat, but this accomplishment surpassed those.
“You always dream about hitting something really high,” Zaloj said. “Five feet 7 inches for me is really high because that’s taller than me, and that kind of freaks me out. I wasn’t expecting 5’7” [before the season]. I was thinking maybe I’d reach my personal record again of 5’5”, but 5’7” always felt a little out of grasp.”
Now Zaloj’s name stands atop the New York state leaderboard. Seeing the fruits of her labor come together in such a way invokes a feeling unlike any other.
“It means a lot,” Zaloj said. “My mom has talked to me and seen a lot of my practices. She’s seen a lot of my videos. She’ll always remind me that even though sometimes my heights don’t always show it, she can see all of my hard work. To finally have something that can actually physically prove that I’ve worked so hard for the past six years to get here is just really satisfying.”Not only is Zaloj a standout performer in the high jump, but she also won the Section IV championship in the 55m hurdles. She discussed her preference in terms of events.
“They’re both different, but both make me feel free, like you’re flying but not exactly,” Zaloj said. “Since I do better at high jump, I’ll say high jump just because of the competition aspect. Sprinting over hurdles is really fun as well.”
While both events are a seemingly perfect match for Zaloj, it wasn’t love at first sight. She started hurdles as a freshman after making a joking remark to her friend about possibly running hurdles. Her first encounter with high jump, on the other hand, was just by chance.
“For high jump, my modified coach told me on an open day to go find a field event and do what you want to do,” Zaloj said. “There were too many people at long jump, pole vault looked freaky, and I didn’t want to throw. So, I went to high jump, met the coach and decided this is where I want to be.”
Now as a senior, she’s the sectional champion in both disciplines. With that in mind, she looked back at the moment where she knew that she could excel in track and field.
“There was this one track meet, the Snapple Invite in Elmira,” Zaloj said. “I remember jumping this one height, and all these boys were making fun of me, but not entirely. Then, they lost their minds when I cleared 4’0”. That’s when I realized that I wanted to keep doing it the next few years just so I can keep making people have that reaction.”
On the topic of memories, with this being Zaloj’s final season for Lansing before moving on to Cornell University, she reminisced on her favorite aspects of her high school track career.
“Just the team bonding that we always had,” she said. “We’re always there for each other. The buses to track meets, everyone cheering on each other. It’s not a specific memory, it’s a collective feeling you get as a team.”
Looking forward, Zaloj has a few more memories she’d like to make before graduating.
“I’d like to win state qualifiers,” Zaloj said. “Then I really want to win states. It would be a nice way to cap off senior year for indoor. If I get there, maybe try to go for the Section IV record (5’8”), but that’s a bit of a stretch.”
It’s not set in stone that Zaloj will continue to jump at Cornell. She does have hopes that she can perform for the eighth-ranked team in the Northeast Region, though. For what it’s worth, Zaloj’s 5’7” jump would land her just a quarter-inch short of Cornell Indoor Track’s all-time top-10.
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