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Why ‘sky’s the limit’ for Seneca Valley track and field jumper Dakari Payne after big leaps in spring

Seneca Valley's Dakari Payne competes in the triple jump this past season. The incoming junior has much potential in all three jumping events. Steven Dalton/Special to the Eagle

Dakari Payne's focus entering his sophomore season on Seneca Valley's track and field team was centered largely on one event.

"I wanted to improve in the high jump," he said. "That was the only event I competed in during my freshman season and I got up to (5 feet, 8 inches). I was motivated to improve."

Payne wasted no time in reaching his goal, going 6 feet in the first meet in late March. The season ended up offering more challenges to the Cranberry Township resident, however, and Payne gained a better idea of what his full potential may lead to.

Along with the high jump, Payne became a regular for the Raiders in the long jump and triple jump. By season's end, he was the only male in the Butler County area to rank in the top five in all three events — fourth in high jump (6-3), fifth in long jump (20-6.5) and third in triple jump (43-8).

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"The first time he tried the triple jump in a meet, he went 40 feet," SV long and triple jump coach Spencer Murray said. "He came out of the pit and asked me, 'Is that good?' I said, 'That's super-good!'

"Dakari has the frame of a jumper and he's got a bounce in his step. I thought he had the potential to go 40 feet early in the season."

Meanwhile, Payne continued to progress in the high jump. He reached 6-3 prior to the WPIAL championships and had thoughts of reaching the state meet. Though a berth there eluded him (tying for sixth in the WPIAL at 6-1), he has a great foundation to build on with two years of high school competition remaining.

"He struggled a bit with technique as a freshman but started to figure things out this season," said Morgan Peaco, SV's high jump coach. "He got stronger, too.

"When he's competing, he's serious, but he also loves to joke and have fun with his teammates. I think the more fun he has, the better he jumps."

Payne plans to introduce himself to the gridiron this fall, but has high hopes for next spring.

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"The high jump is still my favorite event because I have the most experience with it, and I did so much better this year," Payne said. "With the long and triple, I was going on raw ability this season and have a lot of improvements to make. Last winter, I trained with the indoor track and field team. This year, I plan to actually compete and that should help me."

Payne's success in the long and triple jump may lead to an expanded role for the Raiders.

"I had never tried those two events before and did well," he said. "I'm thinking about trying the pole vault next year."

Payne's track and field career began in the eighth grade.

"First, I tried the hurdles and wasn't too good," he said. "Then I tried running and that didn't go well, either. It took me a while to realize I was a jumper."

One with a very bright future.

"The long and triple jump lit a fire in him," Murray said. "He went 43-high (in the triple) as a sophomore. If he continues to grow and put in the work, the sky's the limit. I'm excited to be working with him over the next two years."

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