Lynn Tech alum wrapped up his freshman season at Worcester State with a national mark in the high jump.
By HAROLD RIVERA
Lynn native Justin Lewis came into his freshman season on the Worcester State University men’s outdoor track and field team with high hopes and big expectations. At the end of the season, Lewis brought those goals to fruition with a national championship in the high jump.
At the NCAA Division III National Championships in Geneva, Ohio, Lewis, a freshman, leapt for a personal record of 2.16 meters to bring home the second-ever individual title to Worcester State’s program. The 2.16-meter leap was also good for a new Worcester State record.
Lewis, a Lynn Tech alum, admitted that he dealt with nerves coming into the meet, as it’s not often that freshman are able to thump upperclassmen in national events.
“I was a little nervous,” Lewis recalled. “It was my first time being at a collegiate national championship meet. As a freshman, it’s a little rare to go up against older, more experienced athletes. Being seeded 12th I wasn’t even predicted to podium.”
Once the Lynn native settled in and got himself going, he realized that he had just as good a chance to come away with the top spot as anybody else competing at the meet.
“I felt pretty good,” Lewis said. “Once I realized that the worst I could’ve finished in was tenth place, I told myself ‘why stop there?’ After my coach (Matthew Swett, who’s the Associate Head Coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams) picked me up, I really got motivated.”
Lewis credited Swett, who primarily coaches the the men’s and women’s intermediate and high hurdles, high jump and the pole vault at Worcester State, for keeping him upbeat and confident at the national meet. Lewis relied heavily on Swett’s advice throughout his freshman season with the Lancers.
“I just listened to Coach Swett,” Lewis said. “He always knew what to do. He knew what I was doing right and what I was doing what wrong. Just listening to him throughout the season really kept me going.”
Although he picked up confidence and momentum along the way, Lewis still came away with a pleasant surprise after setting a new personal and Worcester State record.
“It was definitely surprising,” Lewis said. “Not only did I win it as a freshman but the more surprising part is that I set personal records in my last three heights. Winning it was satisfactory but getting up to that height and getting to a higher level than I had ever reached before made it really special.”
Lewis, who also played football and basketball in addition to being a member of the track team at Lynn Tech, added, “I knew going into the meet that if I had a chance to do well I would’ve had to hit a PR. I would’ve never guessed that I would’ve hit 2.16 meters.”
Along with support from Swett, a former athlete at Worcester State himself, Lewis also had a group of fans in his corner cheering him on from Lynn. Lewis’ mother, Nikki, and his former coach at Tech, John Hogan, were sending words of encouragement and support through phone calls and texts while Lewis was en route to a national mark 600 miles away in Ohio.
“Coach Hogan and my mom were texting me and calling me nonstop,” Lewis said. “They told me how proud they were of how far I’ve come. Just having that in the back of my head provided motivation.”
The success Lewis is seeing at Worcester State comes as no surprise to Hogan, who coached Lewis for four years in his days as a Tiger. Reaching the 2.16 meter mark, Hogan said, was a goal that Lewis had been leaping for since he was at Tech.
“That’s a mark that he’s tried to reach over and over,” Hogan said. “To reach it in the National Championship, that’s the icing on the cake. I talked to him a few days before he got to Ohio and I told him ‘this is your week.’ He reached his goal at the National Championship and that shows how hard he’s worked.”
Hogan also noted that Lewis has inspired a handful of athletes that are currently following his footsteps at Tech. Akeem Blake, a Tech sophomore, was the top high jumper in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference this season.
“Kids look up to Justin and what he’s accomplished,” Hogan said. “He’s my neighbor. I got a nice hug from him and he brought his trophy when he came home from Ohio. Hopefully he inspires a lot of kids and hopefully he keeps it up.”
“I hope he keeps it up for the next few years,” Hogan added. “The sky’s the limit.”