Ward Jumps Over Competition

Josh Horton, Reporter

When Ashlee Ward joined the track and field team as a seventh grade student at Meyers High School, she had no plans to be a high jumper.

She had no idea she would enroll at Misericordia University. And certainly had no idea she would become the first track and field athlete to win a Division III National Championship for the University.

Fast-forward 10 years and Ward has done all of it.

The senior high jumper entered the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships in Lincoln, Neb. tied with two others for the highest jump in the nation at 1.74m.

Ward outlasted Gladys Njoku of Stevens Institute of Technology, as well as 15 others, with a jump of 1.76m to claim victory in the jump off and became Misericordia’s first track and field national champion.

The road to victory was treacherous for the senior occupational therapy major. In fact, she thought she finished second.

“I took my spikes off and put my sneakers on. I was ready to go,” Ward said with a chuckle. “Then the officials came running over to me and told me I was still jumping because we were tied. I had to hurry up and get my spikes back on. It was very exhausting. I think I counted 20 times I jumped. It kept going back and forth.”

The concept of a jump off was completely new to her and she didn’t know exactly what to expect. However, head track and field coach Chris Wadas knew she was tied with Njoku and knew the event wasn’t over. The only problem – he wasn’t on the floor to tell her.

“I sent my high jump coach down there with her, so I was watching from the stands,” Wadas said. “I knew they had the same number of misses and I knew they were tied. Since it’s the National Championships I figured they would have to go to a jump off.”

Ward proved her lack of experience in a jump off format wouldn’t be a problem.

A division III National Championship is a lofty goal for anyone – so steep Ward didn’t include it on her list of goals at the start of the season. She would have been happy with a top-eight finish in the event, which would have given her All-American status.

Wadas added former Bucknell University star high jumper Amy Mantush to the coaching staff to coach the high jumpers and Ward says that’s when she really began to excel, giving her the confidence of a national champion, not just an All-American.

“[Mantush] has really helped me and she made a lot of changes in our training that made a huge difference,” Ward said. “We never had a set lifting program and she has one that is so specific and detail oriented that she changes every four weeks. I never realized how much of an impact lifting would have on my jumping.”

A few changes to her training routine, as well as the first few events, proved Ward was just as good as anybody in the country and as the season went on, her confidence grew with each leap.

“Coming in as the top seed you feel as if the pressure is on you to do well and everyone is looking at you and worried about you. Then I had to look back and say, ‘I am coming in as one of the top seeds and people should be nervous of me.’ I shouldn’t be nervous of other people,” Ward said. “I really tried to focus on me and the bar and not me against anyone else. That’s how I tried to calm myself.”

Although she was calm and focused, she knew the top-seed didn’t guarantee a victory. She still had to perform.

“It’s one thing to be ranked as the top seed, but it is a whole other thing to win the title. Anything can happen,” Ward said. “One of the three girls I was tied with went out at 5’1 and she was seeded at 5’8. That just goes to show that anything can happen.”

Wadas echoed Ward saying there were no guarantees, but he said he wasn’t surprised she qualified for the event. He did admit he was surprised she won.

“I knew within the first two meets that she was going to qualify, because she was jumping really high early in the season,” Wadas said. “I knew she had a chance, but you never want to assume you’re going to win based on where you’re seeded. You never know what can happen.”

Ward’s success in the indoor event gives her plenty of momentum heading into the outdoor season and Wadas feels she is the favorite to win the outdoor cham- pionships as well.

“I always do better outdoor, so I am really excited for this season,” Ward said. “We can’t wear our spikes indoor and that really makes a big difference. You can’t go as fast and you tend to slip a lot. With outdoor you can wear them all the time and that really helps.”

She has had an abundance of success throughout her collegiate track and field career, including seven total MAC titles – five high jump and two in discus. She has also qualified for the national event three times and finished 12th in the outdoor champion- ships as a freshman.

With just weeks left in the semester and a handful of events left on the schedule, Ward is beginning to realize the inevitable – college doesn’t last forever.

“It’s going to be so sad,” Ward said. “I have been jumping for more than 10 years and to go from training and competing all the time to not doing it at all is going to be incredibly tough. Hopefully I can go out on top.”

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