By Christopher Hunt
photo by Greg Armstrong
NEW YORK – Priscilla Frederick stood just aside the long jump runway at DaSilva Memorial Track at St. John’s talking. She just finished the javelin, an event she hoped in because she said a teammate needed some competition.
Now she was waiting for her turn in the long jump and killing time before she took her first attempt in the high jump, chatting up teammate Fayanne Francis and former minor league pitcher Baron Short, who came to watch Fredrick compete.
The sun was falling and so was the temperature but not Frederick’s energy. She bounced and joked in between jumps and went nuts when Ben Mallue, the men’s soccer graduate assistant coach decided to hopped in the men’s 400 meters. Then she helped remix the traditional clap that accompanies the jumps to provide Francis some extra pep.
It was St. John’s annual Monday night meeting, a small competition that resembles a scrimmage of sorts. It’s the kind of meet were Frederick, the Red Storm’s all-American high jumper, can afford to be a little scatterbrained. Through the middle of the long jump a girl runs over. She tells Fredrick that the high jump bar is up to 5 feet, 7 inches.
Frederick runs over. She sets a quick mark, takes her first attempt. Missed. It’s colder now than it was just minutes ago. Fredrick made a joke as she stepped off the mat and rushed back to where she marked her steps and quickly cleared her second attempt.
She walks back to her pile of sweats. She’s not talking anymore. Her mind is someplace else, occupied by visions of arching her back more, clearing the bar with her hips, exploding off the ground. You see, the high jump is her event.
“Once it comes down to business, it’s all business,” Frederick said. “When I do the high jump I can’t play around. That’s what people know me for. People want to see me jump. I don’t play around with that.”
Frederick won the long jump and high jump Monday at St. John’s. She popped over 5-9 easily and took three good, rushed, but good, attempts at 5-11 before she brushed the bar off on her last attempt. Frederick cleared the 6 feet for the first time last month, winning the high jump at the USF Bulls Invitational in Tampa, Fla., March 19. That just a week after she finished eighth for the Red Storm at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
“Six feet is a big barrier for girls,” head coach Jim Hurt said. “It’s like the 4-minute mile for guys. Once you get there then you can see how high you can go.”
The clearance sat Frederick atop the national leaderboard until Saturday when Arizona’s Brigetta Barrett and Epley Bullock of Nebraska both cleared 6-2.25.
Frederick cleared her career best on her last attempt. But for some reason she had a different mentality when official settled the bar on the standards.
“Once I saw it get put up, I looked at it and said, ‘I can clear this,’” she said.
Before her reaction resembled the kind of exclamation someone makes after stepping in a smelly pile the dog left behind. This jump just felt different too.
“I felt like Jordan,” she said. “I was feeling like I didn’t know how high I could go.”
To pop a career-best at the season opener is a good sign. The opening weeks of the spring track season is a hectic time for jumpers, who usually have no place to train in bad weather. It may have taken Frederick awhile to bust through the six-foot barrier but doesn’t mean she’s reached plateau either. Hurt knows that Frederick is no stranger to quick and large improvements.
When Frederick first contacted St. John’s, she was a 5-6 leaper at St. Paul IV in New Jersey. A solid but not star jumper. Then assistant coach John Honerkamp went to see her compete early in the spring season and saw that Frederick wasn’t just a jumper. She was an athlete. By June, Frederick had cleared 5-9.25 twice.
Since then she’s been a leader and one of the most reliable athletes for the Red Storm squad. In January, she won the pentathlon at the Metropolitan Championships at Yale then jumped in the car with Hurt and drove straight to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to finish third in the high jump at the Millrose Games. She was back in New Haven, Conn., the following day competing in another four events and winning the high jump.
“She just never stops working,” Hurt said.
Reach Christopher Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org.