Although small in number with just 11, the horizontal jumps group has the potential to be large in team impact from a performance and leadership standpoint.
Under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Jim VanHootegem, the group is made up primarily of returners, which should bode well for providing stability and continuity from last year to this year.
Those returners include seniors Hayden McClain, Brianna Rodriguez and Baileh Simms and sophomores Joshua Foster, Greg Vann, Marcus Mitchell, Hailey Patterson, and Najuana Strickland. A few stood out to the head coach as those who could continue their momentum from last year and the offseason to excel this year.
“Hayden is a senior and was Big 12 champion and an NCAA qualifier indoors before injury hampered his season. He has been able to have not only his healthiest, but also his most intense fall workouts in his four years. Once he gets his timing down, he could be a load in the triple jump because his running has really improved along with his power.
“Baileh had our strongest fall as she was the most able to balance the running, jump technique and physical development aspects of training. I was also really impressed with Joshua. He was able to bring a lot of energy to practices while holding on to a much better degree of mindfulness."
A name not included in the returner category but who could quickly become a key addition to the group is freshman Dexter Neboh, who VanHootegem sees great potential in.
“Dexter is a high school All-American with great competitive instincts. Still, we have asked him to make a lot of changes. He is just going to have to pay attention in practices throughout the week and still be able to be aggressive on Saturdays.”
Another addition to the group who is not a newcomer to the Sooners is Thomas Cheval. Cheval previously competed in the combined events but will focus on jumping. With the change in events come a few different nuances that Cheval will have to adjust to.
“Thomas has shifted his attention from the combined events to full-time long jumping,” VanHootegem explains. “There is actually a large difference between jumping in combined events and the open long jump. To put it in golf terms, he is going from aiming for pars to shooting for birdies.”
Also joining the group will be first-time Sooner Barry Frazier.
Comprised of the long and triple jump, the intricacies of the horizontal jumps are very specific and technical, which VanHootegem says has been an area of emphasis and improvement for everyone.
“In 2016, other than Hayden, our entire group was new to my training and technical emphasis” VanHootegem continues. "It took a season for everyone to experience what we were trying to do, what they grasped and largely what they didn’t. Everyone had a much clearer idea of what we were trying to accomplish in our fall practices. In short, we are becoming a veteran group.
“We are taking strides in honing our craft. We want to get to a place where the athletes enjoy working on all the details -- spending an hour-and-a-half working on one aspect of technique. We want them to become aware not just of a technical change, but the degree of the change. We also need them to understand not just something mechanical, but the timing and feel of it.”
Regardless of who lines up or how they jump into the sand pits, VanHootegem has realistic expectations with some wiggle room for acclimation and learning.
“To be honest, I’m expecting the athletes to be looking forward to some progress, but also a fair amount of struggle. It will take those first meets to get accustomed to meet intensities.
"Our target date for everyone to start putting their game together is in time for the Armory Collegiate Invitational meet in New York (Feb. 3-4).”
The next step in the process VanHootegem describes is the season-opening meet, the Sooner Indoor, set for Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Mosier Indoor.