CHARLESTON -- Haleigh Knapp has accomplished a good amount during her high jump career with the Eastern Illinois women’s track and field team.
Knapp, a senior, holds the school record in the high jump at 6-0.5, which broke her previous high. Last weekend Knapp won the high jump competition at the Ohio Valley Conference meet, giving her four OVC Indoor high jump titles. She was named the OVC Female Athlete of the Year.
Knapp’s biggest accomplishment could be yet to come, though. She will compete in the high jump at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track National Championships Friday in College Station, Texas. She’s only the second EIU women’s track and field athlete to ever qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships, joining Jade Riebold, who qualified in the pole vault twice.
“I am super excited. It’s been one of my biggest goals career-wise and it was a huge goal the last two years, but this year I got serious about it,” Knapp said. “I am excited to be there and excited to be jumping. I am going in one of the lower ranked jumpers, so there’s nothing to lose. There’s not as much pressure. I am just going to have fun with it.”
Only the top 16 athletes qualify for the high jump. Knapp comes with the 14th best jump of the season at 6-0.5. Her second-best jump of 6-0 helped her clinch a spot in the championships. The top eight finishers earn first-team All-American status and the next eight, as long as they clear the opening height, earn second-team All-American status.
“Indoor Nationals is a lot tougher to qualify for. Athletes who are performing at this level, it would qualify them for the U.S. Indoor Nationals sometimes,” EIU coach Tom Akers said. “There’s no pressure on her coming in at 14th. Just come in and do the best of her abilities. The way her practices are going, we are really excited about the possibilities.”
Pressure is the key. Even though Knapp broke the school record last season, she didn’t have the year she wanted because she put too much pressure on herself. The pressure weighed on Knapp throughout the season.
Knapp hasn’t put as much pressure on herself this season and it’s helped her relax, get off better jumps and to be more consistent.
“It’s just been more relaxed and I am having more fun and I don’t feel that weight on my shoulders,” Knapp said. “That’s helped a ton. When I do have bad days, I learn from it and I don’t take it as harshly as last year. I have a more realistic view of it this season.”
Akers said the pressure last season caused Knapp to tense up. This season, Knapp is loose when she goes into events and is taking off from the right spots and clearing heights easier.
“It comes down to be a technician. If you hit the right spot on takeoff, you have a good jump,” Akers said. “We are working on her knee drive on takeoff and she’s been working hard in the training room and Jim Nave has helped keep her healthy. It’s been a really good training year and it’s a really good accomplishment for her.”
But competing at the Indoor Nationals could cause all of the pressure to come flooding back. Knapp isn’t worried about that, though. She’s going in with the right mindset. Instead of focusing on what place she could finish in, she’s just looking at jumping a PR.
“Obviously the goal is to always PR. I would love to jump around my PR or a little higher, hopefully 6-1,” Knapp said. “My goal has been 6-2, so I am an inch and a half off from that. I’ve been really close.”
There will be live video of the Indoor Nationals on ESPN3. The women’s high jump is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Friday.