Saint Martin’s jumper raises his game to new heights
Standing 6-foot-9, Tyler Cronk could easily be mistaken for a member of Saint Martin’s University’s nationally-ranked men’s basketball team.
He’s not. Cronk did play basketball at Kentridge High School but, after recording at personal best of 7-3, decided to pursue the high jump full time in college.
His past performances and potential could easily have landed him at a Pacific-12 Conference school, but instead he has become Saint Martin’s second seven-foot jumper in recent years.
His predecessor, Mikel Smith, who holds the Saints’ outdoor high jump record at 7-3.25, finished fifth in the NCAA Division II meet in 2017. Cronk is bound for this season’s nationals later this month in Kingsville, Texas. He’ll be joined by senior hammer thrower Liz Larson, ranked seventh in the nation with a best of 188-3.
“St. Martin’s is close to home and has a really good coaching staff,” said Cronk, currently tied for third in the national outdoor rankings at 7-0.5 after earning second team indoor All-America honors with a 7-1 mark. “They had Mikel, who jumped in the sevens and I’m jumping in the sevens as a freshman. Might as well keep that reputation going.
“Everybody knows everybody on campus, so we’re all friends. The track team is one big happy family.”
Cronk first competed in track and field during the eighth grade, high jumping and doing relays, but didn’t much like it. Three years later, as a high school junior, he surpassed the seven-foot mark for the first time during a meet in Wenatchee.
“That’s when I started getting serious with my training, started watching videos. Senior year turned out to be a good year. I hit a nationally-ranked mark,” he said. “Once I knew I had the potential to be a good high jumper I stuck with it.”
His PR came at the Pasco Invitational last season.
“The weather was good, it was a good environment, I had a lot of friends around. The adrenaline rush was maximal,” Cronk recalled. He capped off the season with a Class 4A state championship.
Saint Martin’s coaches stuck a hesitant toe into the recruiting waters, wondering if their early contacts with Cronk could hold off late-arriving Division I offers.
“We had reached out to him before he started hitting his high marks,” Saints head coach Jim Brewer said. “But it was really the luck of the draw. He wanted to stay close to home, he wanted to go to a smaller school.”
The biggest draw, though, may have been the Saints’ newly-hired jumps coach. Atanas Atanassov had competed for Bulgaria internationally as a hurdler and coached for four years at the University of Washington, where he guided decathlete Jeremy Taiwo to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I tried to do my best in the recruiting process,” Atanassov said. “I wasn’t sure if he would come because his talent could have taken him to a different level, but he wanted to work with me. He liked the school, he liked the program. It was exciting when he decided to come.”
Though he’ll compete at nationals as a freshman and may yet break Smith’s outdoor Saints’ record this season, Cronk admits that, even with an experienced coach guiding him, there’s been an adjustment competing collegiately.
“In high school I used to be a little goof ball, talking to people, joking around, but in college I’ve got to be more serious, more focused,” he said. “I learned that the hard way by no heighting two meets in a row (at 6-4 and 6-7).”
Atanassov — who has coached another freshman, former Timberline star Keshara Romain, to Saint Martin’s school records in the long jump and triple jump this season — sees Cronk’s occasional lapses as part of a maturation process.
“He’s the type of athlete who can do unusual things. We’re working to get more consistency,” he said. “It’s a difficult transition for a freshman going from high school to college. Being away from home. Managing everything by yourself, trying to prioritize everything in your life the right way. Sometimes you’re missing some pieces.”
Cronk’s eventual goals include not simply Great Northwest Athletic Conference and NCAA titles, but trips to the World Championships and the Olympics.
Atanassov believes experience will help Cronk compete at the highest level.
“He has to know the environment before he goes to a meet and not be surprised with something. He has to be confident in what’s going to happen,” he said.
Cronk, a Secondary Education major who hopes to one day coach both track and basketball, singles out his natural physical “bounce” as his best high-jumping attribute. Atanassov points to an intangible.
“Tyler’s self-directed about the sport. He finds the right decision quickly in the moment,” he said. “As a coach, you can help in the process during practice, but during competition sometimes the athlete has to make quick decisions. He has the ability to change things when he needs to.”
Brewer said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Cronk jump 7-6 before leaving Lacey.
“There’s a lot more in him. You can tell from his demeanor, the way he carries himself,” he said. “It will come as he continues to mature. Mikel had some struggles when he first came here our of high school, too, but by his junior and senior years he had matured.”