Javelins flying, hurdlers soaring, records falling.
It’s track and field season at Southwestern College and this year’s squad is teeming with talent.
Head coach Tonie Campbell said his athletes have already broken 12 school records and personal records are falling weekly.
“We’re still on a record-breaking season this year and it’s been unexpected,” he said. “We have a great group of coaches, disciplined athletes and we’re just having fun. It’s a winning combination.”
Leading the Jaguars is sophomore team captain Paula Aleman. Campbell said that Aleman is a major contender for the state championship in the 400-meter hurdles.
“She’s on a mission and that’s the type of athlete you like,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun day. I’m going to have my popcorn ready up in the bleachers watching that one.”
Aleman is currently ranked second in the state in the 400mh and is the anchor for the 4 x 400 meter women’s rely team. She dreams of competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but not for the United States.
“Ever since I was a little girl I always wanted to represent Mexico,” she said. “Now that it is a possibility, I’m working even harder than anybody else I know.”
Returning state high jump champion Branden Greene looks to continue his reign and add a long jump title to his resume. Jumping coach Kuba Wasowski said Greene cleared a mental barrier.
“At a certain level every athlete runs into that height where they don’t really believe in their heart that they can clear,” he said. “You have to train them mentally first to be able to overcome that.”
Mental training methods can be as simple as a trick of the eyes.
“In practice, before he shows up, I put the bar at 7-feet-8-inches or higher,” said Wasowski. “I need him to constantly see that height, that ultimate elite height. Then, when the bar comes down to 7-feet, it doesn’t look so high to him.”
Seven-feet is nothing to sophomore pole-vaulter Korin Chapman. She was a state finalist last season and owns the women’s school record. Despite suffering an ankle injury, Chapman fought through the pain to finish first and record her season’s best vault of 11-5 ¾ inches at the Ross and Sharon Irwin Invite at Pt. Loma Nazerne University.
Campbell said Chapman is a petite warrior.
“She’s the most pleasant person you’ll ever meet and you don’t see that killer instinct in her normally until you see it on the field,” he said. “It’s like a Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde that comes out in her. She’s an amazing athlete and I don’t think she’s done.”
Another breakout star is multi-talented freshman Maria De Jesus Garcia, who won her first individual competition, the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Heptathlon/Decathlon Championship at Cuyamaca College.
The two-day, seven-event competition consists of high jump, shot put, 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter sprints, javelin, long jump and the 800-meter run. Her point total of 3,507 broke the women’s school record. She currently ranks seventh in the state for the heptathlon.
Campbell has been blown away by her performance.
“She’s a woman who’s never done the heptathlon and has taken it like the cliché duck to water,” he said. “To do it on her first attempt and get ranked in the state, it’s amazing.”
With so many new events, De Jesus Garcia is constantly pushing her limits.
“You have to go all out in every single one,” she said. “It depends on points. If I’m not good in one event I have to go hard in another one. You get a half hour between each event so you have a little bit of time to gain all of your energy back.”
A big year is also expected from the throwers, said Campbell.
“Other than that we have an amazing team,” he said. “I mean Grace Ward is coming from basketball and on her first throw of the season breaks the school record by almost 2 meters, that’s phenomenal.”
A unique advantage for the Jaguars is they get to practice in a world-class facility, the United States Olympic Training Center. Campbell, an Olympic medalist, said that it is a dream scenario.
“A world champion just walked off the field a second ago,” he said. “Some of them become friends with our athletes and they share their experiences. It’s a ship that can’t be beat. Being here is a great privilege and one that I don’t take lightly.”
Ward is one athlete who benefits.
“Not only do you have a beautiful facility, you have beautiful people who work out in this facility who help you grow as a person.”
A shot-putter in high school, Ward said there are similarities to basketball.
“Just like when you shoot the ball in basketball, if your release is not right, it doesn’t matter how perfect your feet or how soon you release it,” she said. “If it doesn’t follow through right, it’s not going in.”
With the state championship looming and his team peaking, Campbell said he is thankful to have an amazing supporting cast.
“We surround ourselves with really good people. They all have a passion for the athletes, for the sport and to elevate each individual’s personal performances so that it garnishes attention hopefully from a university to get a scholarship and get a second chance at this.”