Long-time Timberline High School track and field coach Todd Taylor laments that many of the Blazers strongest athletes, even state champions, chose to play basketball or football in college.
Jessica Neal and Ariana Bush are the two latest examples of how that pattern has changed.
Two years ago, Jaylen Taylor set the boys triple jump record at Timberline, then moved on to compete for the University of Washington. Last season, Keshara Romain, also an all-league basketball player, became the Blazers’ best girls horizontal jumper in more than two decades. As a freshman at Saint Martin’s University, she’s already broken Saints’ indoor records in the long jump (18-4.25) and the triple jump (39-5).
Neal, a senior tied for third thus far in 2019 across all classifications of Washington high school high jumpers (5-6), has already signed with Western Washington University. Bush, a junior who started the season atop the Class 3A rankings in the triple jump (35-8), plans to choose track over her other two high school sports, soccer and baskeball, when picking a college.
“The atmosphere in track is just so positive,” Bush said. “The jumpers I deal with are great to be around; so is our coaching staff.”
Bush is the latest in a line of triple jumpers Blazers’ assistant coach Zandrea Edenstrom — herself a standout in the event at Tumwater who went on to compete for Eastern Washington University – has recruited after seeing them play another sport.
“Zandrea’s good at picking triple jumpers out of a crowd,” said Taylor.
“When I see someone with the right body type and athleticism, I tell them they need to try it,” she said.
Bush needed some convincing.
“People are kind of scared to do the triple jump,” she said. “It wasn’t my favorite at first, but I’ve learned to love it. It’s different than the long jump (where Bush has a PR of 17-3 and a state meet appearance to her credit). It takes a different skill, you have to have the right form.”
Timberline has a tradition in the event going back to 1993 when future North Carolina All-America LaShonda Christopher set a yet-to-be-broken school record of 41-1 ¼ as a sophomore. In 2010, another soph, Sasha Weber, jumped a PR of 37-7.5 on her way to a fourth place finish at 3A state. Two years ago, Romain, who was hampered by injuries as a senior last season, gave a hint of the athlete she’s becoming in college by jumping 38-3.75.
Edenstrom has coached 18 of the top 20 Timberline girls triple jumpers in the post-Christopher era.
“Honestly, she’s had a lot to do with my success,” said Bush. “She knows what she’s talking about since she went to college and did the triple jump. When I was a freshman, I thought it was going to hurt my knees, but now I’ve got confidence and know I’m able to do it.”
Edenstrom points to regular plyometric workouts and video breakdowns of each athlete’s form as keys. Plus, says Bush, she doesn’t miss much on the field.
“She pays as much attention to the freshmen coming up behind me as she does to me,” Bush said.
Bush began her high school career contributing to Timberline’s relay teams and occasionally running the 100 meters, but after experiencing some hip pain, decided to focus on the horizontal jumps.
“It’s tough with any kid to get them to listen to their body and rest when they need to,” said Edenstrom. “Ariana’s starting to do that. She’s also working on her core strength more.”
All of which Edenstrom says should add up to that spot on a college track team Bush wants.
Neal also had to deal with a chronic source of pain, a back injury from an auto accident she later aggravated by landing on the bar during a meet.
Fully recovered for her senior year and working with a new 10-step approach, Neal continues to stalk Weber’s school record of 5-8, set in 2010 and equaled as she won the 3A state championship that year.
Neal, who comes off back-to-back fourth place finishes at state, opened her junior season with a leap of 5-6 and has matched that mark, the third best in Timberline history, twice this season.
“She wants it,” said Taylor, who personally coaches Blazer high jumpers. “She’s really flexible, good in the air and has a great layout.”
Neal also has the instincts and intellect to make adjustments in an event that unfolds in bang-bang fashion once a jumper commits to an attempt.
“Jessica has a grace element to her,” Taylor said. “She knows what to do over the bar. If she’s too tight to the bar or too far away, she can adjust. You’ve only got a second or so to do that.”