Feb. 9, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas - As a product of both rhythm and power, the high jump is one of the most physically impressive track and field events to observe.
But for the jumper, clearing the bar is as much of a mental hurdle as anything.
For instance, Texas sophomore Shanay Briscoe jumps when the little voice inside her head tells her to. Think of it as performance on demand.
"I have a rhythm in my head that I say every time I jump," Briscoe says. "If I get too anxious, I feel like I'm about to run and jump into the bar. To me, it's all about staying calm and focusing on my steps."
Senior Victoria Lucas, however, does everything to try and silence her brain.
"I would get really frustrated because I would think about my jumps so hard, and it would mess me up," says Lucas, the 2010 Big 12 Outdoor high jump champion. "It took me a long time to adjust. If you can overcome the pressure and just not feel it, that's the biggest thing I can do to help myself."
In Briscoe and Lucas, the Longhorns have a pair of high jumpers with differing mental strategies, but they're striving toward the same result.
Last year, Briscoe became the first freshman in Big 12 history to win both the indoor and outdoor conference high jump titles. Briscoe also finished third at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, one spot behind Lucas, who was second.
Lucas' success is a testament to her willingness to grow and mature as a student-athlete. Assistant track and field coach Rose Brimmer said that Lucas has embraced video study and become more analytical in her preparation.
"She can jump (competitive) heights, but she had to learn how to jump them consistently," Brimmer says. "She had to take her emotions out of it."
As a freshman, Lucas felt lost in the shadow cast by Destinee Hooker, who won three-straight NCAA Outdoor titles in the high jump.
"I would get frustrated not being able to do it so easily after (Destinee) could make it look so effortless, and I was working so hard. I could work a thousand times harder it felt like and not be anywhere close to where she was jumping," Lucas says. "Over the years, I think I've gotten a lot tougher. You're either going to learn in this environment or you're going to crumble."
Briscoe, on the other hand, found early success last year as a freshman. After winning the indoor conference championship, Briscoe was in seventh place going into her final jump at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
A personal-best clearance of 6-1.5 vaulted Briscoe up five spots to second.
"I went from seventh to second in just one jump," Briscoe said. "I think it was the passion and the will to win that made me jump that high. It was a now or never type thing. When the bar went up (to 6-1.5) I had never jumped that high before, and it was like a stepping stone for me."
Though Briscoe and Lucas will likely be among each other's top competition for the national titles they both covet, the two have developed a bond that is proving to be beneficial in training.
"If Victoria jumps a nice height in practice, it just pushes me to jump that height too, and the same goes for her," Briscoe says. "It's always good to have that mini-competition."