No one in the 85-year history of the Northwest Conference has ruled the high jump quite like Whitworth’s Cody Stelzer, and he wasn’t expecting to be pushed to his limit Friday afternoon.
Especially by a freshman from his own team who hadn’t gone higher than 6 feet in a month.
But there was Stelzer, one more miss from seeing his aspirations for an unprecedented fourth straight NWC high jump title dashed. Already he’d knocked down more crossbars than he’d cleared. His form was a bit of a mess – to get over his opening height of 6-5, he’d resorted to a five-step approach.
And still Frank Lima wasn’t kidding himself.
“That was just Cody’s time to say, ‘OK, now you really have to start jumping,’ ” Lima laughed. “I knew he was going to beat me, so that’s cool.”
Sure enough, with a third-try clearance at 6-9, Stelzer claimed title No. 4 during the first day of the NWC Championships at Boppell Track – but Lima’s shocking 6-7 jump for second was illustrative of just how much went right for the Pirates.
Five of Friday’s 12 finals were won by the home team, including four 1-2 finishes. And the Pirate men are off to a massive lead – 571/2 points, with some of their best events remaining today – in pursuit of a second team title in three years.
Three Boppell records fell, one of them to Whitworth freshman Joy Shufeldt, who led teammate Tonya Turner across the line in the women’s 10,000 meters in 36 minutes, 45.89 seconds. One of the track records – a 12-8 pole vault by Linfield’s Catherine Street – was a meet record, as well.
But the day’s drama was played out on the high jump apron – where Stelzer has experienced considerable drama over the last two seasons.
Stelzer is twice a national champion – he won the NCAA Division III title outdoors in 2008 and indoors in 2009 – but that success has proved to be problematic.
“I just started to put a lot of pressure on myself and began having some mental blocks,” said the senior from The Dalles, Ore. “I was all over the place. I kept feeling the pressure, because once I won it I felt like everybody was expecting me to win it every time. I could jump as high as ever and I’m stronger, but my head got in the way.”
It became so dire that Whitworth coach Toby Schwarz considered not having him compete at last year’s outdoor nationals – fearing a meltdown might wreck his confidence for good. Stelzer managed to pull it together and clear 6-9 at that meet, good enough for sixth.
“I just had to trust my ability,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long I should know what to do.”
To relieve some of the self-imposed pressure – and help the team – Stelzer branched out this year. He took up the decathlon for the first time and placed fourth at the NWC event a few weeks ago. He placed third in Friday’s long jump, and will be in the high hurdles and triple jump today.
Still, he was a huge favorite in his specialty – until he missed his first jump at 6-7.
That was right after Lima had sailed over the same height on his first attempt. He’d also had first-attempt clearances at four previous heights up through 6-5 – a rather stunning turn of events for a jumper who had no-heighted two meets ago and made just 6-0 his last outing.
It’s been a fitful spring for Lima, and that’s understandable. He ran into some injury issues, but mostly he’s relearning how to high jump after having coached himself in high school in Half Moon Bay, Calif., where he’d worked his way up to 6-6.
“It was tricky at first,” he said, “but it’s nice to have people supporting you.”
He and Stelzer made for an interesting contrast. Lima stands just a shade over 5-8, barely coming up to the shoulders of the nearly 6-5 Stelzer.
“But Frank had me on the ropes,” Stelzer said. “It was super-exciting to watch him and got me all jacked up, too.”
Whitworth scored in all six men’s events Friday, but made its biggest haul in the throws – Alex Hymel leading a 1-2 sweep in the javelin (198-3) and Ron Whitley getting a 5-foot lifetime best of 166-2 in a 1-2-3-6 finish in the discus. In the prelims, the Pirates advanced five runners into the eight-man 800-meter finals.
On the women’s side, the Pirates and Linfield are seven points behind leader George Fox – all of them trying to end Willamette’s eight-year reign. Erica Cox got Whitworth’s other title with a 138-5 throw in the discus.