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Raising the bar high
May 20, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Gering junior McKeltie Imus practices the high jump a day before the District meet in Ogallala. She is a member of a girls team that finished fifth. In contention most of the season, Imus will be someone to watch for next year.

That oft mentioned sports phrase – faster, high, stronger – certainly applies to the world of jumping. According to Gering’s head track coach Randy Plummer, if the right measure of technique and athletic prowess is used, it can translate into winning.

“Jump is different with different skills involved,” he said.

Plummer, and veteran long- and triple-jump coach Randy Johnson try to get kids to fly, if only for a brief moment.

For 15-year-old Riley Schilz, high jump is an event that fits. “I am tall, lengthy and I like to jump. It just comes naturally,” he said. He’s been jumping since seventh grade when Schilz was 5-foot-11. Now, he’s 6-foot-4, and credits both parents for his height, though both are slight shorter.

At practice, 24 hours before the B6 District Track and Field Meet in Ogallala – where Gering’s boys finished seventh as a team, and the girls finished fifth – Schilz was working on meeting his goal of getting over the bar at his own height. He went through a few warm-ups, running through techniques in his mind, and the instruction he’s received from Coach Plummer, who does his best of imparting his years of wisdom to the team’s three high jumpers.

“We use a five-step approach to the bar,” Schilz said. “Coach keeps moving the bar up, progressively. Sometimes we move practice indoors to work on our abs and legs.”

As for competition, Schilz doesn’t get worried. The first round will begin at 5-5. “I just do my own thing; I really don’t think about competition.” Schilz finished out of contention on May 12, while the host school’s junior Jakob Estrada, had a big day, getting over the bar at 6-7.75, nearly five inches better than the closest competitor.

Plummer’s group of high jumpers also includes freshman Brinley Pszanka, who earned her best mark on the year at the Torrington meet on May 6, at 4-9, and junior McKeltie Imus, who has qualified for state in the two previous track seasons. At the district competition, she missed placing and did not qualify, though during the season, she had reached 4-10 several times.

“We had to contend with weather this year,” Plummer said. “High jumping is not a cold weather sport.

Last week before districts, the high jumpers had planned to work on form and practice running to the bar, and getting over it. If it sounds like a simple movement, it’s not, and involves hours of studying the minutia – approach, speed, timing. Plummer said, “plyometrics help. We run through several exercises which improves our ability to jump, improve our technique, a lot of repetitive things.”

Overall, Johnson said he’s had about nine long jumpers and 11 triple jumpers. They include, for the girls’ team, Carlee Brester, Taylor Evans, Kaylee Gannon, and Jade Garcia. For the boys, the long and triple jumpers include Caleb Andrews, Alex Brady, Alex Duncan, Lance Garcia, Riley Grote, Kale Hamilton, Christian Rogers, JinLee Sayaloune, and Kenny Witcofski.

Rogers, who is one of the beneficiaries of Johnson’s tutelage, is in his third year competing in the long and triple jump events, which has been his best year. At the first meet of the year in Chadron, he leaped 19 feet, 2 inches, and had yet to best that mark. “I was feeling good. I just jumped, and didn’t have intentions of beating my past record; I just didn’t think about it.”

Rogers who has competed in jumps since his freshman year, said the reason he turned to the events, was because he wasn’t a runner. “I really liked it,” he said. So, I kept with it. He said Coach Johnson has a straightforward approach to competition. “We work on getting our steps down, and making sure we’re on the board,” he said.

Rogers also appreciated how the jumpers hang out together, “like a jumping family,” he said. “We ask each other at the meets, ‘what are you going for today?’ We set goals for each other, and support each other.”

Johnson said, “All the kids have shown improvement.” This year, “Taylor Evans has been right around 34 feet. Last year, she was jumping at around 32 feet. She’s getting much stronger, and faster,” he said.

Evans, a senior, was leading Districts in the triple, having launched herself to a 33 feet 9 inches, her best on the season until last Thursday at districts, where she took gold with a jump of 34 feet, 2 inches, setting a personal record, and besting a pair of sophomores Shayne Coleman of McCook in second place (32.11.5) and Gracie Stienike of Gothenburg in third place (32-11.25). He said McCook’s Tiara Schmidt, who did not compete in the triple at districts, was her closest competition, her best mark a mere three inches shorter than Evans.

Then there was Gering sophomore Carlee Brester. “When Carli was competing at Torrington, it all just fell into place for her. She broke her personal records in the second and third tries in the triple jump with a 32-9, enough for fourth place, though she ended up out of contention at districts. “There were about six girls, including Schmidt, packed in between them,” Johnson said.

Johnson once was a walk-on triple jumper with the Kansas Jayhawks as an undergraduate education major. “I did alright,” he said. “I was among nationally ranked athletes.” He officially started coaching track in 1975 in Norfolk, then at graduate school in Kearney, but after joining the staff at Gering 1981, he’s bled Blue and Gold since.

“We go over basic points use, runway be consistent, being mentally prepared,” Johnson said. “Mainly, I prepared them to manage time. Warm-ups is a big factor.” As for team chemistry?

“There’s pretty good camaraderie, kids help each other out. The kids are event smart. They know what it’s supposed to look like.”

Another Gering standout, junior Riley Grote started back to the triple jump this year. He was sitting in districts top six and ended up placing third in Ogallala, having propelled himself 40 feet, 7 and ¾-inches, behind sophomore Mitchell Porter of Sidney (41-2.5) and senior Tucker Hill of Alliance (41-2).

“There are always some surprises (at districts); there’s a good side and a bad side,” Johnson said. At the practice on (May 11), the jumpers, after warmups, went through the motions, doing some gentle sprints, and making sure they were good with their steps.

Imus, the top high jumper for Gering, started competing in the seventh grade. Like so many other athletes, and for fans who see the competition from afar, the track events get far more attention than the field events, which suits Imus.

“I didn’t like to run, and so, I ended up in the high jump. It turned out that I was decent at it. Then I stayed around.” Last year, Imus got over the 5-1, but so far this year, she had been idling at 4-10, which should have qualified her for state. Though she didn’t qualify for state, she wanted to at least like to get her P.R. at 5-1, but that’ll have to wait until next year.

Junior Margreta Welch of Chadron topped district competition, getting over the bar at 4-11. Her top mark for the season was 5-2. “The thing is to clear my mind. If I think too much it takes away from the jump,” Imus said. “Then, if I get down on myself, (Coach Plummer) brings me back. He sees my frustration, and I adjust my attitude.” Imus is just as demanding of herself in the classroom, earning a 3.6 grade point average she believes is below her standard. “Coach is observant, and sees the little things that I wouldn’t notice on my own.”

Though she had a respectable season, Imus is looking forward to her senior year. Like many of her track and field cohorts, she’ll be faster, stronger, and higher in 2017.

Editor’s note: For a complete listing of area qualifiers for state, visit nsaahome.org.

Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Gering Coach Randy Johnson works with Kenny Witcofski on his approach in the long jump.

Junior Christian Rogers gets his steps down for the triple jump.
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