Mater Dei senior Taylor Padak, a Highland native, qualified for the prestigious AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Junior Olympics in the high jump for the second year in a row.
Padak made the cut for the distinguished AAU national competition based upon her season-best performance in the high jump June 27 at the ultra-competitive AAU Region 15 National Qualifier held in University City, Mo. Padak was able to clear the high-jump crossbar at a season-best height of 5 feet 2 inches, which also matched her personal-record height and was good enough to earn her a fourth-place medal.
The 17-year-old is seeded among the top-15 high jumpers for the AAU Junior Olympics track and field events, which begin Monday and run through Saturday at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va.
Last year, Padak placed 26th at the AAU Junior Olympics national competition, which was held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I was glad to be able to qualify again,” she said. “This year, the competition was really tough and everybody had a shot. I think it will help me in the big invitationals where there is more pressure.”
Padak has lived her entire life in Highland, where she attended Highland Elementary and Highland Middle School from kindergarten through eighth grade. She got her start in track and field in seventh grade under HMS track and field coach Doug Bradley, and after being introduced to the high jump, Padak quickly excelled at the sport.
She has competed ever since through school and for a summer club team, the Webster Rockhill Rockets Track and Field Club Team, located in Webster Groves, Mo.
Last spring at Mater Dei, Padak won the high jump at the Mascoutah Invitational girls track and field meet with a successful clearance at 5-0.
Five days later on April 27, 2015, she was crowned the champion in the event for the second time in three years at the Tri-County Championships. She earned second-place honors in 2014.
Other notable finishes for Padak last spring were fourth place at the Triad Lady Knight Invitational and sixth place at the IHSA Class 2A Sacred Heart-Griffin Sectional in Springfield.
She plans to compete at the collegiate level after graduating next spring from Mater Dei. Padak has been talking with many coaches locally and nationally about potential offers, while she also plans to take some official visits to schools for athletics when they begin in mid-September.
“I am a very competitive athlete, and one of my goals is to compete in the high jump at a collegiate level,” Padak said. “I believe my dedication to both school and athletics will make me a good candidate for collegiate track and field. I have participated in track since seventh grade, and I have always dreamed of the opportunity to be a college athlete, especially a high jumper. I’m looking at several schools and I want to major in economics or political science and go onto law school. State is my goal for my next season (at Mater Dei next spring).”