By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
June 1, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When junior high jumper Katelyn Williams stepped out onto the track at last week's NCAA East regional in Greensboro, N.C., she had a pretty good feeling she could clear the height needed to qualify for next week's NCAA finals in Eugene, Ore.
||Junior Katelyn Williams is the first high jumper since Alethea Moody in 1990 to qualify for nationals.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Even though it was a miserable 100 degrees outside, it was the same place she made her best jump of the season two weeks ago in the last-chance meet. For a technical event such as high jumping, familiarity is often very comforting.
"I was pretty confident just because we went to a last-chance meet at that stadium and I had jumped very well there," she said. "I cleared 5-10 there and I had a very consistent day where I was clean through the lower heights."
Still, Williams was a little surprised that she was able to beat out some other good jumpers to become one of the 24 remaining for next week's NCAA finals in Oregon. At least two she finished ahead of (Connecticut's Carin Knight and Clemson's April Sinkler) cleared the magical 6-foot mark earlier this year.
"I was watching some of the other girls compete - there were two pits - and a lot of the other girls were not doing so well that had cleared the higher bars this year," Williams said. "It just came down to who could get it done."
Katelyn certainly got it done, clearing 5-10 on her second attempt to put her into the pool to advance to the finals. She becomes the first Mountaineer high jumper to make it to the national finals since 1990 when Alethea Moody finished sixth with a jump of 5-11 ¼ to earn All-America status. Moody is the only high jumper in school history to ever clear 6 feet.
Williams could be the next. She is now finally getting back to the form she enjoyed as a prep senior at West Geauga (Ohio) High where she set the state record with a jump of 5-10 ½. It has taken her three full years to once again reach that height.
"I jumped that 5-10 ½ in high school and I have just gotten back to being consistent at 5-10," she said. "This has been my best season ever, even though I haven't reached my PR."
Williams doesn't really fit the profile of a national-class high jumper because she is much shorter (5-feet-7) than most of the jumpers she competes against. But she has been able to make up for her lack of height with tremendous athletic ability and great attention to detail.
"I don’t really try and clear a high bar (during practice)," Williams explained. "Sometimes maybe I will put it up high, maybe 5-10 or 6 feet, just to see what I can do and make sure my technique is good going over the higher bars."
Williams knows she is going to have her work cut out to finish among the top eight to earn All-America status next weekend. There are at least 10 jumpers in the field that have cleared 6 feet this year, including Arizona's Elizabeth Patterson, who has topped 6-4 indoors, and Hawaii's Amber Kaufman, who jumped 6-3 ¼ at Stanford earlier this spring.
"I competed against the girl from Arizona when I was at junior nationals in high school and I know she's pretty good," Williams said. "I have competed against a lot of the girls just because I have a lot of experience in competitions. I think it's going to come down to who can be clean and consistent."
Williams says 5-11 or 6 feet is what she will likely need to clear to put herself into contention for a spot in the top eight.
"I am going to approach it that I'm happy to be there and I'm going to try and do my best," she said. "I'm pretty confident that I can clear a few bars and I know it's going to take my PR to become an All-American. I would like to clear 1.81 (5-11 ¼) so I can go to the U.S. Championships in Iowa at the end of June."
Just getting qualified for the NCAA finals is a big achievement for Williams. And having a competitor make the collegiate finals in the high jump is a big shot in the arm for a West Virginia program that has become mainly known for its national-caliber distance runners.
"We do have a well-rounded track program," explained Williams. "We have April Rotilio (sprints) and Chelsea Carrier (hurdles and multi) redshirting the outdoor season and they would definitely be going to the national championships if they weren't redshirting. We also have another girl who redshirted, Alex Aker, in the pole vault and she could have qualified for nationals, too. We have more depth than our program is known for.
"It's good for our program because it shows that we don’t just have distance runners," Williams added. "We have a track team, too, and there is a good focus on it here. It helps when people are at the national championships in other events."
Williams is hopeful for excellent conditions out in Oregon because the format for this year's finals has changed. It is now a one-shot deal instead of having to qualify the first day to reach the championship round. All she has to do is be on top of her game for one afternoon, instead of two.
"In the jumps if you are on that day then you can have your best day," she said. "I prefer it being warm with no wet surface because it's easy to slip. No wind. If you have those conditions it's just easier to be more confident. When I cleared 5-10 ½ in high school it was perfect conditions and I haven't got back to 5-10 until this year."
Perhaps Katelyn can go even higher at the national finals next week. If so, it could turn out to be another exciting weekend for someone who finally appears to be coming into her own.