Jennifer Bjelac wasn't sure how to approach this year's outdoor track and field season at Ashland University. Though she had run plenty of outdoor seasons in her career, the 2011 Newton Falls High School graduate was coming off a successful indoor campaign where she took eighth in the long jump and pentathlon during this year's NCAA Division II indoor track and field nationals in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"This year it's been kind of a learning experience, contining on and going on right into outdoor season," said Bjelac, who won the 2011 Division II Ohio high school long jump title. "I was super happy about my indoor season. Of course, that sets the bar high what could happen in outdoor season. I was very excited, weather permitting."
Bjelac, a junior, jumped 5.99 meters during Ashland University's Alumni Open two weeks ago, which qualified her for this year's nationals May 22-24 in Allendale, Mich.
During last weekend's Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet at the Spire Institute in Geneva, she went 5.75 meters and placed second behind Northern Michigan's Cheyenne Stewart's 5.91.
"You can't be mad for scoring points for your team. It's not what I was hoping for," Bjelac said.
Bjelac wasn't the only Newton Falls graduate at the GLIAC Meet - so was 2011 Newton Falls graduate Destiny Prusky, who competes for Lake Erie College.
She placed second behind Bjelac's Ashland teammate Jennifer Foster, who went 1.75 meters in the high jump. Prusky went 1.71. She's looking to clear 1.73.
"I want to go (5 feet, 8 inches). That's the major hump I haven't been over yet," said Prusky, who is heading to nationals in that event.
Foster is not only Bjelac's teammate, but her college roommate as well.
"Oh, that girl Destiny is from my high school," Bjelac recalled of what she told Foster. "You're going to compete against her a lot.
"I love seeing familiar faces from other schools around the area. That's pretty cool. I still like to cheer for Destiny."
Cheering for a former teammate might not have been something Bjelac would have done in the past. The self-described "fierce competitor" said her mindset changed when she began competing in the heptathalon, which encompasses the 200, 800, 100 hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin throw.
Bjelac was ranked 17th and in position to go to nationals prior to this past weekend.
"I love doing it, but sometimes it's a test of your abilities, mentally and physically," Bjelac said. "It's always a challenge. It's never the same. Sometimes you're better in one event than in others. It's cool to see what you're capable of on that given day.
"The multis have changed my perspective. It's a little friendlier atmosphere. Everybody cheers for everybody else. You're competing against them. You want to beat them, but you still want them to do good. It's a weird mentality."
Heading into her senior year, Prusky wants to take Bjelac's path - make nationals in indoor and outdoor.
"I haven't made it national for indoor track," she said. "I'd like to go back for outdoor."