High jumpers have enough unknowns to consider — as their performance tends to fluctuate more than sprinters, distance runners and throwers.
The changes in divisions added more unfamiliarity for Cactus senior Kinsey Minter entering Saturday’s state track championships. Minter comfortably claimed the title in 4A-II last year.
Now in Division II, the competition is stiffer. Minter enters the meet tied with defending 4A-I champion Shakayla McEaddy of Tucson Catalina Foothills for the top jump (5-7). But she’s never faced McEaddy, No. 3 seed Emily Gerard (also of Catalina Foothills) or No. 4 Ali Yerrer of Marana.
“My thought process has changed a little bit. Last year, I focused more on myself and not the people I was competitng with,” Minter said. “But this year I catch myself thinking about the other girls and how high they’re jumping. I always have to fix myself and remind myself.”
It’s a brave new world for track athletes this year. Defending champions like Minter are facing the greatest challenge of their careers, while less decorated teammates are finding qualifying for the state finals as difficult this year as placing at state was in the previous five.
Though it’s not all the same schools, Division II is akin to a combination of the old 4A-I and 4A-II divisions. Each of those divisions took the top 18 qualifiers in each event. Now each division takes the top 24.
“It’s been an interesting season. We probably should be Division III,” said Cactus girls track coach Casey Olson. “I’ve never had as many athletes as an alternate. This year, you have more pride going into state because they only take the top 24. We’ve even had some athletes quit a couple weeks before the season ended because they knew they weren’t going to make state. That’s been disheartening, but we’re trying to drive home the thought that if you make state, even as an alternate, it’s a phenomenal accomplishment.”
On the flip side, the new setup has done away with complacency top athletes battled during the years with seven divisions. Olson said that, in a way, that’s how the state meet should be.
“She’s never really had competition over 5-4, but now she’s jumped 5-7 and yet there’s another girl jumping 5-7 and another girl jumping 5-6. She’s feeling the pressure more than she’s felt in the last three years,” Olson said. “At the invitationals, we’ve competed on this side of the Valley. We haven’t been to any big meets.”
Both Minter and McEaddy jumped 5-4 to win state last year and have already set personal bests.
Minter’s breakthrough came at the April 2 Peoria Invitational. It’s no coincidence that this meet included Sunrise Mountain junior Emma Worlton and Dysart senior Danielle Johnson, Minter’s nearest Division II competitors in the Valley.
“Having that in the back of my mind, that I do have harder competition, has pushed me to work out harder,” Minter said. “I personally wanted to jump 5-6. I unexpectedly got 5-7, so I decided I’m going to work super-hard and try for 5-8.”
Soon after the meet, Minter sprained her ankle at a club volleyball tournament. She’s been working her way back into form since.
The ankle is feeling better, but Minter said it probably will be tender during Saturday’s meet at Mesa Community College.
“Currently I’m not at 100 percent, but I should be close by (Saturday). It won’t be as strong as it was before, but I’m working on my balance and getting my strength back where it needs to be,” Minter said.