Prairie Village high jumper Pickell prepping to join KU’s NCAA champion track team

Grace Pickell, shown with her father Tim (left) and SM East track coach Chuck Sulzen, is joining the NCAA champion women’s track team at the University of Kansas.

By Chris Heady

Grace Pickell just wanted to be outside.

After Pickell’s freshman basketball season, former SM East girls’ basketball coach Rick Rhodes noticed Pickell was clearing the chairs they were jumping over for off-season workouts higher than everyone else. He talked to her about possibly joining the track team, trying to coax her away from swimming that spring.

The final decision came to the weather.

“I came out of basketball and I was inside all the time and I would be inside for swimming so I figured, track’s outside,” Pickell said.

It proved a smart choice. After setting a new state record with a 5’10.5″ high jump her junior year, Pickell now finds herself an incoming freshman about to join the 2013 NCAA champion women’s track team at the University of Kansas, ready to contribute right away.

“There are like, seven or eight girls who are leaving who scored a lot of points so they are looking for incoming freshman to help them out,” Pickell said.

The soon-to-be freshman’s preparation is already in full force.

“It sucks, I’m not gonna lie,” Pickell said of her five-day-a-week workout regime that includes swimming, biking, sprints and running hills. “I was dying last week.”

KU’s vertical coach Tom Hays texts Pickell workouts every two weeks to prepare her for the college level, something Pickell thinks will be more mental than physical.

“I have really bad stage fright,” Pickell said. “At KU Relays and in state I get nervous, so I think my biggest thing will be nerves for competitions.”

The nerves could possibly be even higher given the high expectations for the KU team next season coming off of an NCAA Championship.

“I feel like there is a little bit more pressure but at the same time it’s super exciting,” Pickell said. “I like to win, I’m not really satisfied unless I win. I feel like it will be really good for me.”

The key in preparation this summer, Pickell says, is not over doing it. Hays told Pickell the worst thing that freshman consistently do is work themselves too hard before the season. Once Pickell moves to Lawrence, she’ll be training for 40 straight weeks, and Hays doesn’t want the team too tired.

“He wants me not necessarily in shape, but fit, just to be active and not sit on the couch,” Pickell said.

Pickell has a workout based around things she enjoys — or at least tolerates — doing. Her workouts are built around swimming, which Pickell does for the Prairie Village team. Mondays and Thursdays are for swimming and biking, Wednesdays are for swimming and running hills (which she does at SM East) and Fridays are for sprinting 100s.

“It really isn’t all that fun,” Pickell said. “But it’s what I have to do.”

Pickell will move up to Lawrence with the rest of the incoming freshman — and she can’t wait to get up there.

“I felt so comfortable there when I visited and my whole family has gone there, I’ve grown up going to football games and visiting my brother and sister there and I’m really familiar with it all,” Pickell said. “I’m so excited.”