AUSTINTOWN - Leah Blaney pauses. She stares down the runway, arches a couple of times and, step after step, she makes her way down to the white, wooden barrier separating the runway from the sandy pit ahead.
She gets as close as possible to the foul stripe without hitting it in full stride and thrusts herself toward the pit ahead.
The Badger High School sophomore has already went 16 feet, 7 inches - a jump early this season in East Palestine.
Blaney talks about track and field, family ties
It's a marked improvement from last season where getting past 15 feet was the exception instead of the standard.
Her father, Dale, has worked with her on her steps after practice and sometimes on the weekends at the high school.
"I want her to spend as much time and get as good as she can at it," Dale said. "The most important thing is her wanting to be good at it. I've never pushed her at anything. If she wants to be good at something, I will put everything I can into it helping her getting as good as she can at it.
Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo
Badger High School sophomore Leah Blaney went 15 feet, 10 1/4 inches to place fourth at Saturday’s Optimist Meet at Austintown Fitch Falcon Stadium. Blaney, this year’s Trumbull County Track and Field Champion, has been one of the area’s best long jumpers.
"But it's up to her basically how good she wants to be at it."
So far, Leah has excelled at her craft. She won last week's Trumbull County girls long jump title on her sixth and final jump. Leah came into the last attempt of finals second behind Mathews' Hannah Suttles, who went 16-0. Blaney bested her with her jump of 16-2 1/2.
"That made me really proud because she got that jump on her last jump," Dale said. "You never know how kids are going to react to pressure situations. She really, really wanted it and went out and got it."
Leah, in turn, got more than a satisfactory reaction from Dale.
"To see him smile and be proud of me, it makes me feel so good," said Leah, who placed fourth at Saturday's Optimist Meet in Austintown.
Practicing with her father makes the Badger sophomore, who is competing at today's Northeastern Athletic Conference Meet at Grand Valley High School, quite pleased.
"It means so much to me," Leah said. "He's the best I could ever ask for. For him to take time out of his schedule and want me to do better and want to help me succeed, it means a lot."
Dale doesn't mind it all. It's a different and welcomed change of pace for him.
"I've been to a lot of sporting events and been involved for a long time," he said. "To sit there and watch your child do it is pretty fun, especially when they succeed at it. There's lots of things she's not good at, but it's so fun to go watch. Watching her play and doing things is enjoyable."
Dale dabbled in the long jump when he was in eighth grade in the Badger School District.
"I think she's exceeded her expectations and I think she's exceeded mine," he said. "I didn't think she'd jump a 16-7 this year, but it's pretty neat for her to do that."
Dale had his share of sporting exploits. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1986 and spent the early 1980s playing for West Virginia University.
Blaney's prowess on the hardwood is well known - especially around the Kinsman area.
Leah, when she was in elementary school, tried to play the sport her father did so well three decades ago.
"I liked it a lot at the time," Leah said. "People started to be like, 'Oh, you're Dale Blaney's daughter. You're going to play basketball. You're going to be good.' It was kind of not my thing. I didn't like the pressure - pressure from other people. I felt like I had to do what my dad did, so that's why I don't do it."
Dale just wanted his daughter to have fun on the court or whatever venue she chose.
"Whatever she did, I just wanted her to enjoy it, have to work at it and be as good as she could in that sport," he said. "I think she has the potential to be good basketball player. In her mind, she wasn't the most aggressive person. I never, I don't think, ever pressured her to play. I'm sure in school, the other coaches. I guess with your last name, there are some expectations.
"I told her I could care less if you never scored a point or anything like that, as long as you enjoy playing the game, enjoy being around the game. That's all that matters to me. It didn't matter how successful she was. I just wanted her to enjoy what she was doing."
Dale said one day he'll put Leah behind the wheel of a race car. He is a nationally-renowned dirt-track racer and a familiar face on the World of Outlaws Series.
"It wasn't something I would want her to get into," Dale said. "She never talked about it. One of these days, I'm going to throw her in a car and see what she would do.
"She always said she wanted to be a race car driver."
For now, Leah is happy to be the driver of her own destiny - a path that takes her two feet down a long jump runway.
"To make myself standout in track means a lot to me," she said. "With the racing in the family and the basketball, everyone expected me to do basketball. It's not really my thing. For me to come out in track and to do well and for people to know me for other reasons, it's an awesome feeling.
"I just don't want to be known as one of them."